My first memory in life is of food, or more accurately, of my mother and food. It’s an image, a sun-blurred snapshot in my mind, of my bikini-clad mother at an outdoor party being handed a plate of food in the pool. I think the plate had some sort of BBQ’d meat, and probably some salad, but the feeling attached to that memory is of my two-year-old self being quite sure that she shouldn’t be eating in the pool…
In my memories since then, many things characterise the places and phases of life, but food is one of the strongest.
Some of the clearest memories are of the food I never got to eat. Let me explain.
I’m the eldest of five children, so ‘feeding the masses’ is probably a pretty good description of many of our meals. But before us, my parents were great entertainers, and they told us many stories of the dinner parties, and the food they used to eat, recipes they never made for us – things like soufflés, beef wellington, duck a l’orange and other 70s classics.
Many of the stories also covered the disasters: the huge pot of poached chickens in stock that spoiled when not chilled quickly enough, and the chicken mousse, stored in the bottom of an overstocked fridge, that was covered in a deluge of red wine after an upset, but scraped off and served anyway!
The food my parents cooked for us was mostly simple and cheap, but even during my early childhood in Adelaide, my memory is that they made most things from scratch, and that we kept our own chickens for eggs, bottled and dried fruit from the backyard and grew veges. I remember spaghetti Bolognese (that Australian classic!), roast chicken from our own chickens, beautiful little boiled eggs from our bantam hens with toast fingers to dip in, grilled cheese with apricot jam or dates under the cheese (still not sure where that idea came from), and sometimes my mother cooked food that her Hungarian mother and grandmother had taught her, like Túrós Gombóc or Kakaós (farm cheese dumplings and yeasted cake with a chocolate filling respectively).
Later, living on a small property on the mid-north coast of NSW, the vege garden grew, and we also had cows and ducks to add to the chickens. We ate very much in tune with the seasons, with annual gluts of bananas and mangoes, zucchini, corn, good old chokoes, and even turnips – I’ll tell you about those another time…
Now, quite a few years on, I cook for my own family, in between working and finishing off a renovation, and trying to establish a productive garden, and the usual mishmash of modern life. This life is obviously very different, but food, good food, is still very important, and I still love cooking for family and friends, shopping at farmers’ markets for fresh produce (even if not growing my own right now), and enjoying every last one of summer’s mangoes…
Thank you for joining me….