Friday, 11 July 2008
Food for thought
I have had my nose buried in this book for the past few days. I've wanted a copy for a while now and have been waiting for it to be published in paperback. I love Nigel Slater's writing. Here is a book full of the idiosyncracies of the way we eat, the things we eat, the way we shop and the way we cook. But it is much more than this, it's a celebration of our food, our relationships with food and the way we view our food that is so particularly English. (and yes, it does cover our peculiar fascination with afternoon tea). This book has given me so much food for thought (excuse the pun).
After I wrote a recent post about a trip to the beach and the inevitable 99 on the way home, I was emailed by the lovely Anna who asked me to explain what I was talking about. Of course I took it for granted that she would know that a 99 was an ice cream in a cone with a chocolate flake stuck in. How could something that seemed to have been around throughout my childhood not be known by everybody else. I then realised that is these food references that cause puzzlement to us bloggers. I have read countless wonderful posts from Amercian bloggers with passing references to foods I've never heard of, that sound wonderful but I have no idea whether they're savoury, sweet or indeed edible. Isn't it strange that something we take so much for granted, something that has become so embedded in our culture is not universally shared. I remember always buying my 99s as a child from the ice cream van and asked Anna if they had them in USA? A rather naive question perhaps, but I really can't remember reading about them or seeing them anywhere else than over here. Yes was the answer and in a similar way Anna says she vividly remembers the sound of the ice cream van (truck) approaching. During our emails I suddenly realised that most of my childhood summer memories have the sound of an ice cream van in the background. It seemed to be the backdrop to so many summer evenings. You would have eaten your supper, the sun was still shining (it always seemed to be sunny in my memories too) and in the distance you would hear the magical sound of the ice cream van a few roads away. This gave you just enough time to find your mum, for her to find her purse and for you to be given some coins to rush out into the road and wait, sitting on the garden wall for the ice cream van to finally turn into your road. I would queue with my friends who lived in the road and we would look at all the photos of ice lollies, hoping that they hadn't sold out, but it was inevitably to the lure of the 99 that I succumbed.
Just yesterday I was emailing a friend and we were talking about The Famous Five and ended up, as you do, imagining summer picnics and lashings of ginger beer and Aunt Fanny's fruit cake. I can't remember ever having lashings of ginger beer as a child but I am oh so nostalgic about the food that the Famous Five would get through every time they were out on their jollys.
Another favourite book, Milly Molly Mandy is full of reference to home baking, cooking, cakes, blackberry picking and egg collecting - and it's these little snippets that I love. If I'm honest the scenes I love best in Harry Potter are those huge feasts at Hogwarts or the scenes when Mrs Weasley is preparing her meals for all her family. These were all reminders of those Enid Blyton stories I devoured when I was little.
A few weeks ago I watched The Supersizers go Seventies. It made us all laugh, particularly Big sister. It brought back so many memories, not just about the food but life how it was when I was little. Gosh the food was really unhealthy, fresh food was really lacking in this programme, the age of processed, packaged food was dawning. In our home I remember my mum introducing garlic powder for the first time (fresh garlic still scarcely available), chilli con carne (she always overdid the chilli) and my friend says that no camping trip for her family was complete without a Vesta Curry. I loved Arctic Roll, fish fingers, tinned peaches and cream, pear drops, sherbet pips, Blackjacks and my mum's Christmas trifle.
Nigel Slater in his book says that Sarson's vinegar is the smell of Britain. Not sure if I would agree with this as I could think of a lot of other smells that could sit alongside it. But there's no denying it that there was always a bottle of Sarsons in our kitchen cupboard to go on our chips, just as there is in my home today, still taking pride of place on the table when the chips are served. Could you imagine sitting on the beach next to a fish and chip shop without the waft of vinegar mingling with the sea air?
I could go on forever about my food memories and this book has brought so many of them back to the surface again. So if you like teacakes, toast, toffee or tatties, have a passion for sweets, chocolates or cakes or simply just enjoy buying, cooking or eating food I'd get hold of a copy of this book, settle down on the sofa with a mug of tea and a packet of bourbons (or digestives, Rich Tea, Custard Creams, Jammie Dodgers, Club biscuits, kit kats, Jaffa Cakes, Gingernuts - I could go on ...)