How often do you hear someone smack their lips after eating a hearty dish and claim: “Tastes just like grandmother used to make it”? Or proclaim, out of the blue, amidst an utter mundane task or chore, a near uncontrollable desire for something delicious made by their mother or grandmother?
There is no higher complement for any dish or meal than a most favourable comparison to one prepared by someone’s mother or grandmother. For when this occurs, the cook has found the sacred portal into someone’s most intimate experience of love, warmth and comfort. It does not get better than that – for the cook as well as the eater.
Food memories, for most part anyway, are precious slides of positive experiences. Not many of us bother to remember bad food experiences, now do we? Nor do we remember memorable meals we enjoyed by our lonesome selves.
The ultimate food experiences are created when good food is enjoyed with good company. Irrespective of where you were, or what you had to drink.
The ones we remember through their food are the ones we love and whose food we ate frequently. These are the ones we laugh with, cry with, and often fight over silly things with. All it takes to instantly relive our relationship is a single bite of food – something we often watched them cook, or something that was sent our way when the chips were down. Back in my student days, I often received these parcels of comfort from home by the most imaginative means possible. Today, I fail to recall the faces or names of the strangers who delivered my treats but I will never forget the taste of mom’s jam tartlets. I believe that it was no accident that these always arrived just before the final exams.
In our current times, time for cooking is considered a luxury. A quick stop at the supermarket to shop for dinner and treats has become part of our established daily ritual. Our food cupboards, fridges and freezers are filled with fare that our mothers and grand mothers used to make: biscuits, candy, rusks, biltong, ice cream, cakes, tarts – the very things we long for when we miss our loved ones.
Our commitment to convenience has stolen some of our most precious treasures – our food memories. For you might treat your children or grandchildren with the best chocolate bar money can buy, but that chocolate has little social content and no emotional capital. It is just good chocolate. For all intent and purposes, it is deprived of meaningful origin, has no shared connective bond and ultimately, it has no personal meaning. Not to the buyer or the eater.
Just this weekend I received a most precious gift: bread baked by my ten-year old nieces. With just butter and cheese, it was the most precious and delicious bread, more so than any other bread.
These days, I make sure than when I visit my family I also bring something I cooked at home: ice cream, sorbet, biscuits, or candy. It does not matter if it is always appreciated. Ok, to be honest, most of it is appreciated. My Chawan Mushi (a steamed, savoury Japanese custard that I made with sheep’s brains, eggs, mirin and soy sauce) was not such a big hit. But my chocolate-almond butter crunch toffees flew off the plate and I received enthusiastic requests for more this weekend. So here is the recipe I adapted from David Lebovitz. And just because I know everyone loves Nutella® I am throwing in a bonus recipe for home made chocolate and hazelnut spread. Best I ever had. Promise.
If you care about your relationships with others, give them something to eat that you have cooked or made yourself. After all we all want to be remembered one day, don’t we?