Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Eating for England

Five days of clearing up vomit...and I'm the only one that hasn't actually thrown up! I have felt pretty awful, but did the starvation thing to kill of any bugs lurking in my stomach. So without the up chuck, but with all the other symptoms I have taken it easy the last few days.
My way of coping has been to don a big cashmere sweater, drink lots of water and read something light....reading when you are ill is a big thing for me - I actually have a little selection of books which are my 'ill' books - ones I turn to when I need cheering up!

This time I tried a new book - Nigel Slater's "Eating For England".

Wrapped up, with the book balanced on a pillow, I read his descriptions of 'English' food - it brought back so many memories - what is it about food which does that?

It got me thinking...what food memories I had from my childhood...

I grew up with a mother who despised cooking, she majored in reheating things - mostly from Marks and Spencer, with additions from Birds Eye - fish fingers with their luminous breadcrumbs, or beef burgers, which my mother thought were good quality because it said 100 % beef (oh, dear god - what parts of the cow?).

Pudding was equally awful, again things out of packets dished up without any love or care - Arctic Roll being one of the most disappointing - so dry it stuck to your tooth enamel. The other pud she bought was packets of Butterscotch Angel Delight - which I would make, I loved this - it tasted strongly of chemicals, but there was something soothing about the texture - comfort food!

Food was seen as a chore in our house, eating it bore no enjoyment, the biggest fuss being who cleared up afterwards - there wasn't a dishwasher in the early days.

The only light in this foodie hell, was the weekly visit from my Aunt, this saviour loved cooking - not, I suspect because she particularly loved cooking itself - but I realised from a very young age that she cooked as an act of love. Every week she would cook Shepherds pie, every week she would cook the potato and before topping off the pie, she would make a saucer of buttery mash for me to eat while the rest of the pie cooked.
This mash is one of my abiding memories of childhood and of her!

When I left home, I had no culinary skills (other than making Angel Delight or toast), I worked really long hours, came home tired....and repeated what I knew - microwaving more vile packets of ready prepped 'food'. It was only when we moved out of London and had children I began to question our eating habits, and gradually began to learn how to cook!

The microwave was lost a good ten years ago - it's only purpose for it's last few years was making poppadoms!

In Nigel's book he trys to describe different cooks - I fall between two - the 'grow your own cook' and the 'cool modern shopper cook' - perhaps because after 13 years I'm still 'in training'!

I'm an Aga (I would never have anything else now) cook, who has a penchant for buying cookery books - they sit on the kitchen window sill - good job it's a wide window, as there are now 72 of them! I follow recipes, and don't have the confidence to make things up. I swear by certain books, but can't bear Delia!

I shop at the local farm shop - and get a nervous twitch if I forget my canvas bags - plastic is a no-no!
I like heavy cookware, catering quality equipment, I get a perverse pleasure from saving leftovers and turning them into something else, I get a kick out of putting homemade things in the freezer!
I love 'wild' food - Elderflowers from the garden transform into ice cream and cordial, blackberries turn into Bramble jelly -then the summer pleasure of home grown veg from the garden. OK, so it's not rocket science, but sometimes it is the simple stuff that makes people happy!

Now my cooking is about LOVE, it is about the ingredients, what is in season. Not to pick the most expensive 'in thing', but to pick things that will comfort and please.

Nigel Slater's Aparagus and Lemon Risotto.

The Italians have it right - they cook with love and care - it is an expression of affection for their family and friends - I might have missed this when I was little, but I'm making up for it now.

So Mr Slater if you were to pigeon hole me - I'd like to be referred to as the "Trainee Italian Mama", and certainly not a "Cookery Hen"! ....Thank you for cheering me up!

If you would like a trip down the memory lane of pear drops, tapioca and crumpets buy "Eating for England".

Other rather good books by Nigel Slater on my window sill -
Real Food
Real Cooking
The Kitchen Diaries

also read - Toast (his biography)