Shaped by food

Tidying up files today, I came across a little memoir piece from a few years ago. It’s a reflection on how our approach to life can be shaped by food, cooking and eating. If this triggers food memories for you, about yourself or others in your life, I’d love you to share them here.

Food and anxiety have often gone together in my world. I remember my grandmother, on my mother’s side, hovering in the corner of the room, a safe distance away, as my eager-to-please grandfather doused the Christmas pudding liberally with brandy, and assailed it with matches. She would almost will it not to flambé. It suited her story better, to have her cooking fail, rather than to succeed.

Her culinary life was not without glorious successes though. She made meringues that would almost float like clouds, and every holiday we would devour thick slabs of her date and ginger cake. It was moist, nearly black, and laced with glace ginger that almost burst in your mouth. Heavenly. I’ve baked this cake since, and not yet captured the rich, gooey perfection of my childhood memories. But I’ll keep trying. If there’s one thing I learnt from Llan, it’s that a kick-ass cake is worth working hard to perfect.

Llan’s cooking repertoire was a funny menagerie. There were the old faithful recipes handwritten on stained pages in her pasted-together recipe book, and then there were the interlopers. New recipes she’d found, or was given, that tried to infiltrate their way in to our hearts and stomachs. The one I remember best was clipped from a magazine by a family friend. They were called chocolate spiders, an odd concoction of melted chocolate, peanut butter and…wait for it…crushed two minute noodles. Without the flavouring sachet, thankfully, but strange nonetheless.

When you live life expecting everything to be pretty awful, things tend to conspire to make that a reality. My grandma taught me that lesson early, and thanks to her I’ve learned to do the very opposite. I know my pudding will flambé, I trust that life conspires to be bountiful, and I know that a perfected cake recipe is better than most anything else in the kitchen.

 

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4 thoughts on “Shaped by food

  1. Not only does the pudding flambe, but sometimes the whole table lights up!

    My memories of my maternal grandmother, ‘Granny’, and food are mainly Pumpkin Pie, which she provided at two holiday dinners – Christmas and Thanksgiving. Not a packet mix, but the real deal as only a grandmother can make. I can taste it as I write!

    My paternal grandmother ‘Mamaw’ lived further away and so our visits were less frequent. Whenever we did come to visit, however, there was always a huge plate piled high with at least ten different kinds of homemade cookies like Bicracky Bars made with several different kinds of chocolate and the best Chocolate Chip cookies ever – the kind with an impossible amount of chips and chewy, the kind that melt in your mouth. The best part was that she would place this huge platter in front of us and tell us to have as many as we wanted!

    On another note, I once read that a family relies on about ten top favourite dishes that they cook throughout their family lives. I can remember at least five of our staples. How many can you remember?

    Have a great holiday seaon, and thank you, Tilly, for such rich and meaningful blogs this year! I look forward to reading about all your inspiring culinary and sustainable adventures in 2013!

    S.

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    1. Indeed! I adore these grandparent memories you’ve shared, and I would very much like the recipe for Bicracky bars. I can almost taste the chewy warm chocolate chip cookies. Oh yum! Top ten favourite dishes, I reckon that’s about right.. Thank you for your kind words, and encouragement, and everything, all this year. T xo

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  2. The trick to getting the flambe to do it, is to warm the brandy first, then it’ll light every time.

    My Mother made an excellent Christmas pudding, and later when her husband became coeliac experimented with those gluten free variations. She kept making the original for my brother and I. John and I would share one and keep one for when we got more family together through the year.

    One year we didn’t get more folks together, so we were able to bank a pudding (The Pud – rhymes with wood), topped up with extra brandy to preserve it. A real treasure. Then Mother announced that she was no longer going to make the puddings, and we each still had one. Now I have a two year old pudding saved in the fridge and can’t decide whether to have it this year. I’m struggling with the idea that after it’s gone, there won’t be another of hers, unless of course I make one myself. I do, of course, have the recipe. Writing this helps me think that I will.

    We always used to have it with a plain white sauce and brandy butter. The brandy butter is equal parts butter and icing sugar (not mixture), beaten together until it goes white, with as much brandy as it will hold – which is quite a lot if it’s kept cold.

    Looking back on this I can see that brandy is a big part of a successful Christmas in our family, but almost no-one drinks it otherwise.

    Yes, and thankyou Tilly for your fine Blogging.

    Pierre

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    1. Oh Pierre, I so hope you do recreate the recipe this Christmas. I reckon making our loved ones’ recipes is one of the sweetest ways of showing our love for them. Brandy butter sounds intense! We might have to make that in the Mackay household this year. If you see us rolling down the streets of Gympie, high on sugar and drunk on brandy, you’ll know what happened! Thanks for reading my blog….it means a lot to me! T xo

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