Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The temperature's rising...

Here in the UK at the moment we're enjoying a) a spell of unusually gorgeous weather, and b) a delicious daily fix of Marco Pierre White in the new series of Hell's kitchen-- two things which are entirely unrelated, but which together are combining to bring a warm glow ( internal and external) to my life. Most pleasing. As revealed last week, in the end MPW didn't make it as the face of Lorenzo, largely because he's way too distinctly the face of himself and I found it impossible to impose a different character and identity upon him. He's as mad as a bicycle, and distinctly battered-looking these days, but it's lovely to watch him being all macho and brutish and rude every night. I'm tempted to try to book a table at the restaurant just so I could gaze close-up at the larger-than-life prints on the walls of Bob Carlos Clarke's iconic photos of him from the White Heat book and shiver in the blast of his blistering fury. I'd be far too excited to eat, which, post-Easter, would only be a good thing.

Anyway, last night the contestants had to make a dish that summed up their childhood-- cue sentimental sniffles all round the TV kitchen, and much discussion on our sofa about nostalgia food. For me the most evocative food from my long lost youth would definitely be what we called 'cowboy toast'-- white bread dipped in beaten egg, fried until it's golden and fluffy (dripping with artery-clogging cholesterol) and eaten sprinkled with (more coronary-inducing) salt and tomato ketchup. This was what my lovely stepmother often made us on Sunday evenings just before we went back to my mum's house after spending the weekend at my dad's, and it brings back slightly bittersweet, melancholy feelings of things ending; of packing bags and being in transit. For Him, childhood food memories were largely of the glorious age of packaged 1970s delicacies, such as Arctic Roll and Angel Delight, and those deeply unpleasant meat pies that came in tins. No wonder he became a strict vegetarian when he was 16.

For my own daughters, their early years can be summed up by the fairy cake. We've talked about my fairy cake baking habit/obsession before, and I even helpfully/boringly supplied a recipe which will produce 18 delicate, cherry-topped offerings that can be eaten in a couple of mouthfuls. However, it hasn't escaped my notice that these modest staples of my girls' formative years are already looking frighteningly retro, and that today's fairy cakes are bigger, blowsier, and more glamorous, decadent and delicious than anything to come from my own oven so far... Take these, for example, which He and I brought home from a rare child-free day scouring the antique markets of Stafforshire/Derbyshire on Saturday. (The arm in the corner of the picture belongs to daughter #3 who was doing a wild dance of excitement at the prospect of getting her hands on the cake with the chocolate buttons on the top...) I can see I'm going to have to up my fairy cake game.

So, what foods evoke childhood for you? Are the memories happy or sad, and are they things that you still eat today? (Think I might make cowboy toast for lunch...)


Donna Alward said...

Oh India, you made me laugh with your mad as a bicycle comment. I always laugh over here.

Oooh, nostalgia food. I grew up on a farm, so there are so many things I associate with childhood. Gingerbread and whipped cream (the cake, not the biscuit), Macaroni and cheese that is baked, not from a box...my mum's "meat pie" which was leftover roast beef and whatever vegetables she'd cooked as extra, soaked in gravy and topped with pastry (how's that for artery clogging?). Orange drop cookies.

And my grandmother's fried chicken.

I usually end up with loads of cooking in my books. Eating is also about the senses, and memories those foods evoke, and being together around the table.

Kate Hewitt said...

What a lovely post--it's amazing how certain smells and tastes can bring back memories. I grew up in the 70s era of frozen vegetables, pork chops dipped in shake and bake crumbs, and meat loaf padded out with oatmeal, with rubbery jello or instant pudding for dessert--nothing that makes me terribly nostalgic! However in the summer we went to our cottage in Canada and my mother made homemade raspberry pie, fresh vegetables from the garden, and roasts just about every night for dinner--yum! It was like living a double-life foodwise.

Biddy said...

Erm... meatballs, chips and processed peas. Dad would cook that on Saturday's when my mum was shopping.

Michelle Styles said...

Nostalgia food -- goldfish crackers spring to mind as my sister just sent a care package. Girl Scout cookies.
Gingerbread cake. Guacamole and tortilla chips.
The problem is that sometimes you remember things are better than they were...
I do NOT miss liver. Or my mother's surprise casserole -- a sort of rice and ground beef covered with cream of mushroom soup. Or tamale pie Or sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping

India said...

Donna, your list of foods had me groaning with gluttony and itching to get cooking-- I'm not sure I can write a single word now until I've had gingerbread with whipped cream!

(I'm afraid I can't take credit for 'mad as a bicycle'... It's a stock phrase in our house, but it originally came from either Fry and Laurie or Blackadder, can't remember which. Anyone know?)

Kate, I feel a bit the same about the food of the 70s-- chops were pretty ubiquitous, weren't they?! I was glad when the 80s came along, bringing with it the concept of the Marks and Spencers ready meal, which my mother embraced wholeheartedly. I shudder at the thought now, but at the time lasagne in a box seemed so much more preferable than the sinister brown 'casseroles' we'd bravely endured for so long! (The raspberry pie sounds like heaven, by the way. Essence of summer...)

Ah Biddy, that's a fab memory (and your dad sounds lovely. A man who cooks for the kids while you're out shopping on a Saturday? Total superstar and instant hero in my eyes!)

Michelle-- sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping? Is that recipe for real? If so it could only have been thought up by a pregnant person, surely!! I'm SO with you on the liver, though. We had to eat it at school and I still remember the smell of it in the canteen, and the accompanying feeling of utter dread and panic.

(I'm curious to know more about goldfish cookies and tamale pie, neither of which I'm familiar with...)

Donna Alward said...

Sweet potato pie with marshmallows is an american thing. Marshmallows in my opinion are for floating in hot chocolate or making smores over the campfire.

Things I don't miss? Plain boiled potatoes.

And Michelle- my mum has a casserole recipe like that too. *shudders*

On Saturdays, my mum would make fresh rolls and I'd grab one fresh from the oven and put peanut butter on it. It went all melty and was delicious.

Rachel said...

Dear India,

I think there may have been two such phrases uttered by Stephen Fry in Blackadder--in our house it is remembered as 'mad as a balloon'. This makes no more sense than 'bicycle' but the lunacy of the phrase sort of makes it's own point doesn't it?

If I close my eyes I can still remember the lovely smell of the Sunday roast at my dear, departed grandparents. A mixture of hot dripping, pipe smoke, Viennese coffee and cat food--happy days...

Have seen a bit of Hell's Kitchen--has he taken that ridiculous scarf off yet?

Lots of love,


India said...

Marshmallows are kind of also for seeing how many you can put in your mouth at once. I'm such a class act...

Lovely memories of your grandparents Rach. I bet they'd be so happy to know you remembered them like that-- for good food and great times.

I'm afraid Marco's persisting with the scarf look. Random. (Or so I thought, until I looked up the 'mad as a bicycle' thing and it all slotted into place! Check out this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNnzLRsU9ks
The actual phrase comes at 8 minutes 20, and if you scroll forward to there you'll see exactly who Marco is modelling his look on...

Amanda Holly said...

Sometime during the 80's there was a bread strike and I remember my Mum baking bread! Wow that smell used to go all the way up to my bedroom in the attic and to this day I cannot walk past a bakery with the smell of freshly baked bread without drooling!

My Gran used to make apple charlotte - does anyone have a recipe for that? I'd love to taste that again!

Oh God now I've got the munchies for sure!

Rachel said...

Oh well sniffed out on the bicycle front, India! Have googled madly and discovered that our quote is from series three when Stephen Fry plays the Duke of Wellington and tells the idiotic Prince George that: "Your father may be as mad as a balloon, but you have the makings of a great king."

Can't find it on youtube though and He will be 'madder than Mad Jack McMad, the winner of this year's Mr Madman competition' if I don't do some housework soon!


Kate Hardy said...

Ohhh, food of the Seventies.

Actually, we were a bit weird as my mum was always a foodie. These were the days when spaghetti came in really long, blue packets and cooking spaghetti was considered Very Fast. (At least in our part of the world.)

My mum used to buy the Robert Carrier magazine every month so we used to cook all kinds of things - I guess she was an early Nigella type, because we rarely stuck to a recipe. (Ha. Nothing changes there. Daughter reads recipes then sidles over to me: "If we swap this for that and do this instead..." OK.)

We never, but never, had those horrible meat pies in a tin or puddings in a tin (like my poor DH did).

My mum's roasts were legendary. And proper rice pudding. Proper home-made custard (not Bird's!). Gingerbread (like Donna's). And the infamous cheese stars (recipe on my website - scary to think this has been a "must have" at every party in my family for the last 35 years. Even if we're doing a barbecue I get texts reminding me that I have to make cheese stars, and enough for everyone to have goodie bags).

Thanks for the memories, India!

India said...

Amanda-- my mum went through a bread-making phase too, which must have coincided with her 70s wholefood phase because it was the weight, colour and consistency of a brick. All my brother and I wanted was lovely sliced white in a packet! (I'm sure I must have a recipe for Apple Charlotte-- I'll have a look...)

Ha-- I remember that one too, Rach! Quoting Blackadder is a sure indication of a person's age I think, though I'm working on a slow indoctrination of the daughters for a second generation wave...

Oooh yes, Robert Carrier-- my mum liked him too. And John Tovey. That was the era of the formal dinner party, of course; everything drenched in cream and brandy and flambed, and my mum all glamorous in a long dress. Thank goodness times have changed!!