Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Memories, mk2

I'm at the circular table, sitting in the two tone cream and burning orange kitchen, my chair jammed up against the corner. The smallest space. Being the youngest I could most easily wriggle into it. My fathers 3/4 pint mug filled. A plate of toast. Pots of Fruitfield marmalade with slivers of zest. Everyday orange juice. A lifetime of sqeez. It's faintly powdery taste remains with me. In the seventies, they never manage to make it taste entirely reconstituted.

It's the sense of abundance from my mothers kitchen that remains with me. Cone shaped plates of food, heaped high. That generous sense of ampleness, with more to come. And always enough for another person. Friends would sometimes be staggered, especially in my college days, by the physical size of the meals we had.

Pork chops with apple sauce. A kidney still attached on my fathers plate, slightly shiny and chocolate redbrown. Heaps of potatoes. Processed peas. Yorkshire relish. I still can't eat potatoes, boiled or mashed, without a generous dollop of yr.

Flash fried steaks, caramelised onions, pepper and salt. Pan drippings poured over boiled potatoes. Mushrooms done in the same pan.

Beef stew, food for days, finished off as a Saturday lunchtime soup. Sweet, the soup tinged orange. Bisto mixed with cornflour as stock. Sweet meet boiled gently for an hour and a half, falling apart on the spoon. The smell and taste and colour and warmth of the memory wells up through all my senses. I can taste the white pepper sweetness of it on my tongue. I can feel it heating me on a November afternoon. I can see the short nod my mother always offers after she has served everyone up. When she has checked each plate, each pot and pan, and everything in the kitchen is exactly as it should be. Plates heaped high, bowls filled. Ample food available. Thick brown bread cut and buttered. That short nod that signalled she was about to eat. That said "that's my family fed".

The metallic crack of the biscuit tin, and the slightly sickly slightly stale smell of custard creams. fig rolls, and rich tea.

Bicuits and cold milk before bed. Gently persuading my mother to up the pre bedtime rich tea ration, and regularly succeeding. My mother never can refuse to give food, of any description. To eat is to live, to feed is to love.

Sunday roasts which seemed to be the size of my childhood head. Boiled ribs, pink, and steaming and salty and delicious. Gammon steaks, grilled. With pineapple. Signalling the introduction of one more foodstuff into my diet. Two if you include the vague approximation of fruit as a foodstuff. Lamb chops, or rack, slathered with vinegary mint sauce fresh from a colmans jar.

The seemingly endlessly large jumble of washing up that followed, preceeded by the endlessly large jumbe of arguments about whose turn it is. Sunday tea. Cold cuts. Cheddar cheese with yr. Brown bread, butter, and dunnes pate. Thick slabs of everything. Jam tarts, or homemade appletart.

This is the stuff of my early life. These are the memories which still inform my own food. The feelings that I hunt down each time I sit somone down at my table. I have my own ritual of completion, much like my mothers, the same urgent sense of hospitality, no, more than that. That same sense of urgent care and pleasureable responsibility. That same sense of generosity and ampleness of spirit found in the hands of both my father and mother....

What are the tastes that have made your memories? Wagon wheels in your lunch box. Dairylea? Pleasantly plastic easi-singles in sand-filled beachside sandwiches? Fizzle sticks. Dib dabs....

Tell me. I'd like to know.


Deborah said...

mmm... dib dabs! ;-) How about cream pies, cigarette sweets...

Would also agree on the brown sauce. Don't eat it any more, but if I'm at Mammy''s I'll dump a bit on the ole mash!

Great post... really well written!

P.S. See your reading Les Halles, would be very interested in reading your opinion. It's been in my cupboard for a few years.

Abulafia said...

I'm not that great a fan of Bourdain. It's a sloid bistro cooking book. But it's way too full of what he thinks of himself, and his readers.

Still. He was a working chef for most of his life, and the food is practical, tasty, and his shortcuts work.

A good book to have in your kitchen I think.

Thanks for the writing compliment too. Had a fatal weakness for cigarette sweets too.

Valerie said...

Hi Abafulia
What a great post. You write very well. My brother and I lived for packet Granny Smiths Cheesecake mix, made up, and Heinz tinned steamed puddings which took and hour to boil and heat up, also lemon meringue. We had enormous sliced of everything, unlike most families. We never had junk or snacks but dinners like kings.

Kieran said...

Nice one! My memories are all about the wild culinary exporations of my mother. Even the failures were interesting...

Felix said...

When I think of my Mother's cooking, I think of several staples:

Lasagne: (a British, South-London, highly-non-Italian rendering of the recipe...) Layers of Lasagne, tomato/beef stuff and cheese sauce.

Tuna fish pie: (tinned tuna mixed with cheese sauce and peas and topped with mashed potatoes...)

Cauliflower Cheese: Cauliflower cooked (but never until soft) and topped with cheese sauce and grilled bacon...

Golden Syrup sponge made in the microwave (half a tin of Lyle's Golden syrup, with sponge ingredients mixed and thrown on top... eaten soft and ridiculously sweet...)

Chocolate sponge and chocolate sauce (My brother Edward's favourite... he remains an enormous chocolate fan...)

and of course, Sunday Roast. I am not a fussy eater, but to this day I can't eat store-bought Yorkshire puddings, having been raised on glorious home-made versions.

Pancakes... I loved my Mother''s pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. We would make up an enormous jug of batter and have them fresh out of the pan. It must have been exhausting standing there and dishing up fresh pancakes to such a rabid lot.

Sausage casserole: thick, Cumbrain sausages braised for about 5 hours with carrots, leeks and onions in tinned tomatoes with some herbs added. Always served with mash and always delicious.

I loved the way my Mum cooked these dishes; she was always particular about things like the amount of cheese in a sauce (LOTS) the importance of not overcooking vegetables, (NEVER!) the simple steps for frying onions, browning mince, crushing garlic, making a roux... I loved the process of turning raw materials into food. It always seems like magic to me.

We had a swedish Au Pair who made potato dumplings with butter and bacon in the middle of them... IO still remember the gorgeous incongruity of the salty, flavoursome bacon-ness in amidst the somewhat solid, dense, potato.

We also discovered an awesome cake recipe that involved crushing rich tea biscuits and mixing the broken pieces up with molten dark-chocolate and condensed milk. You then spoon the solid, cement liker mixture onto a plate and leave it in the fridge to cool. Once it is solid (and it does go like a brick) you can cover it in melted dark chocolate. It is insanely rich and nothing tastes quite like it...

so many food recipes. Ooh - chelsea buns, we made for a while. Also homemade pizzas and bread occasionally.

I think my most memorable childhood food, however, was had when my parents did a curry night. It was a thing they'd do together as a kind of couple thing, and we were all supposed to stay in bed and leave them in peace, but the smell of pooris deep frying would always tempt me from my bedroom and I would appear, all elfin in my nightie looking hungry. The only way my parents could appease me, was to promise to save me some for the next day. In the morning I would always have a little parcel of kitchen paper turned translucent from oil, with a now cooled, but still delicious poori inside it for me.

I think those pooris were like, the best thing I ever tasted.

Abulafia said...

Hey Flix.

Cauliflower Cheese. Lasagne. Sunday Roast. I hear you.