Sunday, 21 October 2012

Introduction to Salty Food

Let me do some explaining. So far, two potato recipes, each taken from a family recipe book. Potatoes are not going to be the theme although I will almost certainly return to them. Nor is everything going to have salt in it, despite the title.

The purpose of all this is to try to pull together a collection of family recipes, photographs, and memories of family celebrations. It is, among other things, an amalgamation of three unfinished books. First, my own recipe book. Then there is my mother's, a book known as the “Foster Family Cook Book” for as long as I can remember. And finally, my mother's "Christmas Book" which, as well as Christmases past, includes accounts of other celebrations. There are other scraps from diaries, letters, photographs and other bits and pieces that would otherwise get lost or buried. As Philip Pullman wrote in "Lyra's Oxford" (2003): "The world is full of things like that: old postcards, theatre programmes, leaflets about bomb-proofing your cellar, greetings cards, photograph albums, holiday brochures, instruction booklets for machine tools, maps, catalogues, railway timetables, menu cards from long-gone cruise liners - all kinds of things that once served a real and usefu purpose, but have now become cut adrift from the things and the people they relate to."

Among other things, I am trying to capture some of my mother’s main principles when cooking and eating. She often referred to “good, honest food”: a term first used, I think, by Elizabeth David. Certainly Elizabeth David says the following in an article called 'Eating out in Provincial France 1965 - 1977': "The food was good honest food, honestly cooked". That lengthily-titled article is reprinted in "An Omelette and a Glass of Wine", possibly the greatest ever anthology of writing about food.

"Peasant food" was another favourite descriptor of my mother's: always a compliment. At more than one family supper, we would have something slightly unusual on our plates and would be told it was a staple in China or wherever. On such occasions, my father was known to say, rather plaintively, "But we're not in China".

Many years ago, at my mother's dictation, I started to make some notes on a pad of paper for a cookery book that one day she was going to write. The paper I was using, which must have been lying around at the time, advertised a Glucometer: something for diabetics to measure blood sugar? The book never materialised but the notes, mainly consisting of a list of recipes, remain.

Under the heading "Intro", the notes read as follows:

"Parents grew up in post-war Britain. Rationing. People starved of flavours and colours. Soho. Peppers in triumph. Crisp food."

The "Peppers in triumph" reference is particularly resonant. It relates to my grandfather, Roberto, who came over to England in the 1930s from Milan and married my grandmother, Eve. He would apparently visit Soho (he was a Professor of Italian at University College, London) and return home to Henley bearing peppers: Waitrose in Henley had yet to be built. The peppers would be fried in olive oil and eaten - by him alone, I am told.

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