Food ties families together, it is literally their lifeblood but it’s so much more. The passing on of recipes and techniques cement relationships and culture. The dinner table is a place to share and love, and to laugh about those infamous cooking disasters. Food is precious as are those we love.
It’s funny how I don’t really remember my mother cooking and baking, she did, she does. I don’t really have that many memories of cooking and baking with her; vague, shadowy moments of playing with pastry and licking clean now unhealthy bowls of raw mix. It’s my Dad’s cooking that I remember, those are the recipes that I cherish and those are the disasters that still have everyone splitting their sides with laughter.
The earliest disaster that has passed into family folklore was the sugar-free ice-cream. My mother had us incarcerated on a milk free, sugar-free diet for most of our early years, partly due to allergies partly due to some ethos or theory or other. My darling father decided to spoil us and make sugar-free ice-cream (this was long before the days when such delicacies were widely available in health food shops). I don’t remember it so I must have been very young. I have no idea how he made it or with what. Or even if he had a recipe. I do remember that it was as hard as nails and totally inedible.
He was also the proud inventor of goldfish pie, a classy dessert of orange flavoured jelly with tinned mandarins swimming in it. That was edible and usually well received. Less well received was baked bean pie. Times were tough but this economic dish was never going to be my forté. Baked beans with a heavy layer of mashed potato baked in a casserole. No thanks. Not even with the top lovingly forked into proud ridges as though it was some culinary masterpiece.
I remember macaroni cheese, we used to have swimming lessons and every Monday evening we would come home to a late supper of macaroni cheese. A deep mountain of it in an enamel saucepan, everyone fighting over who had the most ‘crust’. I still love macaroni cheese. I love cheese.
There was barbecuing episodes too as he was something of a pyrotechnic, a dangerous pyrotechnic. (Barbecuing still wasn’t that common when we were little so admittedly he didn’t have many occasions to hone his craft). They were christened burnt offerings. Eventually we fortunately got past the burnt on the outside and raw on the inside tendency. But burnt it still was. He also managed once to set fire to himself, flames shooting up one arm then round his shoulders and down the other side. Barbecues didn’t do my mother’s nerves any good.
Much later he developed a passion for chilli con carne. I’d gone veggie by this point so was fortunately spared. He made it at least once a week in a dish large enough to last the family several days during an entire winter. There were variations. One time he decided to flavour it up with some leftover wine and poured the lot in. Only for everyone else (he had lost his sense of taste and smell) to find out that the wine had turned to vinegar. That didn’t go down well. Over the course of the winter he also seemed to forget the original recipe and it seemed bereft on many occasions of many of its vital ingredients.
But the recipes that I really cherished were the ones he learnt from my maternal family’s culture. He learnt to make polpette from my great-aunt (the champion family cook) and carefully developed and perfected the skill. They were a true labour of love. Sometimes he even considered making them from a vegetarian meat for me, although we never quite perfected those.
I remember eating potato [something that I have not yet found a written version] in the playground at junior school. (Potato fritters seem to be an English compromise but the word I know orally must be a variant on ‘fried’, frah-jho/sho-lay). They always attracted very odd looks from the other children, maybe it was the smell because they were absolutely laden in garlic. These look very similar, I must try them some time.
He got up early every other Monday morning to start off my pizza dough for my last year Food Technology class, I really appreciated that. As I grew older and experimented in the kitchen myself he was always there to guide me. And do the washing up. Even when I had left home and hit a crisis then I’d phone Dad.
My dad passed away suddenly. One of my biggest regrets is that these recipes and knowledge passed away with him. I miss him terribly and I miss his cooking and advice.
This is in response to this week’s RemembeRED prompt but has definitely gone a little over of the word count so apologies!
And for one very hairy moment it completely disappeared.