What can I say about Grandma? She was probably the most amazing cook in our family when she was alive and in her younger days. She had an encyclopaedic range of Hakka recipes to be found in a person. Her temper was somewhat mercurial when I was living with her, which I suppose you would be when you had 9 kids to bring up and back then grandpa was a clerk for the government which did not pay a lot and definitely was not quite enough with that many mouths to feed.
To compensate, grandma used to raise pigs, kept chickens and had a vegetable patch, which also supplemented the family income when there was excess produce, in order to put food on the table.
To say it was a hard life is probably understating it. To give them credit, grandma and grandpa managed to raise their children to adulthood, giving them at least a high school education, then managed to scrape together enough money to send their sons overseas to Australia for university. The girls however had to make their own way for their further education. It wasn’t fair I suppose, but it was a hard life and I guess they did what they thought was right and what they were able to afford at the time.
Anyway, back to grandma’s cooking.
I had my first hand experience of her cooking when I was to sent to live with her, grandpa and my uncles in Adelaide in the early 80s when I was old enough to start high school in Australia. I won’t bore anyone with my experience of growing up in Adelaide, considering this is a recipe blog after all. The dishes I remember grandma use to cook were all quite hearty and definitely very filling. This is the kind of food that a hill dwelling Hakka peasant would eat and be able to go all day tilling the rocky ground or building a communal round house. If you were trying to count your calories, you can forget it if you were living with her!
Some of the recipes I managed to get from her were by asking her directly, spying on her when she was cooking, or reverse engineered later when I tried to replicate what she did. Others I never did managed to get off her as she claimed they were too complicated or too whatever to make for me. Never set me a challenge like that!
Of the recipes she did share, the simplest dish, which mum also gave me tips on, was pigs’ trotters in black vinegar sauce. When cooked properly, it is a gelatinous, sweet, sour, unctuous, calorific delight to be consumed with vast amounts of steamed rice. Possibly accompanied by a dish of plain garlic flavoured greens.
Black Vinegar & Garlic Pigs’ Trotters
- about a kilo of cleaned pigs trotter. Ask the butcher to cut into one inch rounds – like mini osso buccos. Leave the skin on!
- Chinese Black vinegar, also known as sweet vinegar.
- 1 whole head of garlic peeled, and crushed with the flat side of a large knife
- a large piece of ginger – around 1.5 inch, peeled and bashed to flatten, or sliced if you prefer
- Dark soy sauce
- white vinegar
- Heat a large pan, preferably non-stick to make things easier, on medium high heat until hot. Then throw in the ginger, the garlic and the meat. There is no need to add any oil.
- When the pork pieces changes colour add about 1/4 cup of the black vinegar, a couple of tablespoons of sugar and a couple of tablespoons of the soy sauce.
- Stir to coat the meat and the herbs in the sauce. When it starts to bubble, cover and turn the heat down to low to stew for the next hour. Check the liquid level from time to time, make sure that there is at least about half an inch to an inch of liquid at the bottom. If too dry then add water to make it up to the level.
- Taste the sauce after about an hour – it should be sweet, salty, gingery, garlicky and a bit tangy. If not sharp enough to your taste, add a splash of white vinegar. It should be like a sweet and sour pickle in taste. If too sharp then add a teaspoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, to “round off the flavour” as my mum would say.
- Let it gently stew for at least an hour until you can easily pierce the skin with a skewer – the meat should be very tender and the fat under the skin should be almost translucent. If not then leave it to cook for another 30 minutes.
- If you are health concious, then you can let the stew cool in the fridge and then spoon/scrape out the fat that sets on top. The sauce will set to a jelly when cold.
- Eat the stew hot with steamed white rice and a plain stir fried chinese green or stir fried chinese lettuce.