Some time ago Liz posted a piece titled Love You With Food, it ends with these lines:
There is a legacy of love and food and cooking in my family. I’m so glad to be part of it and so glad it doesn’t end with me.
I wish I could say the same thing about my family. It’s not that there was any lack of love, or indeed of good food, in my childhood – far from it! But somewhere along the way food became a problem instead of an uncomplicated celebration and the legacy I inherited could be better described as a fraught relationship, with food often being both the focus of special times and at the same time an enemy to be controlled and guarded against.
It’s hard for me to write about this without feeling that I’m being too harsh about the choices my mum made when I was a kid and as reached my late teens. I know she was doing the best she could as a mother and many of her choices are ones I have made too. My dad played his part in shaping my relationship with food too, and mum’s for that matter, but he wasn’t ever much involved in the shopping and cooking side of things, he comes into play more on the emotional side and with 20/20 hindsight we now know that much of what he did was down to him being bipolar (he was diagnosed about 5 years ago).
So I’m going to talk about my good food memories first.
Liz writes about the foods her mom cooked for holiday meals, dishes that were loved by particular family members –
“something that my mother [had] made for that person. Ryan’s Stove Top. Jason’s Roasted Potatoes and Carrots. Jeff’s Angel Food Cake. Ted’s Chocolate Cream. Martha’s Cheesecake.”
My mum did cook special things for us, I’m told I requested veal casserole, which featured regularly at our family table, for dinner on my 3rd birthday and I remember boiled fruit cakes being made, also for birthdays. What I don’t remember much of is Mum cooking anything just for the fun of it, I don’t think she really liked cooking very much, so most of my good memories of food and Mum are of once off type experiences. Except for when we were camping, there were lots of camping trips and something about an open fire seemed to demand frivolous fare – damper cooked in the coals, twist bread toasted on sticks over the open fire, marshmallows all singed and gooey, jaffles made in a proper jaffle iron with their edges burnt black and filled with hot baked beans and melted cheese. Good times.
Grandma (Mum’s mum) and Nana (Dads’ mum) both had special things they would make for when we came to visit. Grandma did the Christmas cake every year, there were always homemade scones (apparently she used to win prizes for her scones) and slices for afternoon tea, and baked dinners at Grandma’s house were often followed by a baked fruit crumble. Nana used to make a fabulously sherry drenched trifle which I famously loved so much that when I was very young I was discovered after the meal with the empty trifle dish spooning the remaining sherry out of the bottom of the dish and exclaiming “Lovely gravy!” She also made rock cakes, I think I have her recipe for them somewhere but I’ve never made them, must do that one day, they were good and we’d get to take home the left-over ones with us when it was time to leave. Nan’s Christmas specialty was hot brandy sauce which she would nurse over “a bead of gas” for hours on end, used to drive my dad nuts. We might mock but it was awesome with Christmas pudding. My brother makes it now, he’s less precious about the slow heating, it tastes about the same but it tends to separate a little and I don’t remember Nan’s doing that.
When I was first going out with Adam and he started coming over to our place for dinner my friends all asked him if he’d survived the ultimate culinary test. Had my mother fed him the dreaded Chicken and Broccoli*? Of course the answer was yes, it was one of my mum’s staple feeding of guests dishes, I loved it but I gather it caused much trauma to my friends over the years.
Oh, here’s another one! Each year we would go to the Royal Easter Show, almost always on the Thursday before Good Friday. Mum and Dad would come and pick us up from school at lunchtime and we’d spend the afternoon and evening at the show, coming home after the fireworks display. The food that was available at the show back then was truly awful, overpriced and almost exclusively deep-fried, pretty much my mother’s worst nightmare in food terms, so Mum would try and take food with us so we wouldn’t have to buy dinner there. One year she made Cornish Pasties, they were awesome, I have the most vivid memory of unwrapping them from their foil packages, dolloping tomato sauce on them and savouring every bite. As far as I can recall this was the only time Mum ever made them.
When we were living in the US, in Boulder, Colorado, my mum perfected the high altitude pavlova. I gather her first attempt as per cooking in Sydney was not a success but pretty soon she had it down to a fine art and the Aussie dessert (yeah yeah, I know, shut up you Kiwis and let us cling to our illusions :P) was shared far and wide. Or, you know, with anyone who came to dinner or at any “bring a plate” function. I seem to remember there was some re-adjustment required on returning to Sydney, Mum being unable to remember what she used to do before the high altitude tweaks were made.
I’m actually really reaching for good memories here. I know there must have been many, many wonderful meals and a great deal of my mother’s love for the family poured into providing for us. It kind of scares and saddens me that the not so wonderful stuff has overshadowed the good stuff so much. In fact, I’m getting a bit depressed thinking about it, don’t know when I’ll ever get around to writing Part 2….
*BBQ chook cut up, placed in a casserole dish with a layer of steamed broccoli on top. Then pour over a can of cream of mushroom soup mixed with some milk, thyme, lemon juice and maybe extra mushrooms, sprinkle with grated cheese and bake till hot and bubbly with the cheese nicely browned. Serve over rice and glare at any child that dares protest (my sister wasn’t a fan and nor are my kids sadly).