As we prepare to head off to stay with my parents and meet a new generation of the Lisle family, I can’t help but ponder over the food which shaped me and my life as I was growing up. My food habits have changed substantially over the years; my knowledge and tastes have expanded (who could imagine a time when I’d turn my nose up at garlic?!), the number of ingredients available have increased and the sources of inspiration have unfolded, but there are times when I still look back to my ‘food heritage’ and hanker after the simple food from my childhood.
The trip home is at short notice and, unusually, I haven’t put in any special requests for mum’s this or mum’s that, so I sit now and wonder about what she will have prepared for when we arrive late this evening.
My bets are on chilli con carne with jacket potatoes! Mum’s chilli was a regular when we were growing up and is one of the first things I learned to cook. When we were old enough to be alone in the kitchen, my brother and I cooked alternate Saturdays – Jeremy took on the Bolognese and I took on the chilli.
Both are, as they are in many British households, still staple meals for us. Whilst my recipes have been tweaked, honed and influenced by many a chef’s cook book over the year’s and now bear little resemblance to mum’s, on occasion there’s just no beating the originals for the memories they conjure.
Another meal I can almost guarantee to be served is a roast dinner. Mum’s sure to do some pork for me, with crackling of course, and for my brother there’ll be Yorkshire puddings and/or an apple pie (I know it’ll be pie not crumble because we had crumble at Christmas!). Sunday dinner was religiously served by two o’clock and the leftover cold meat with chips followed for Monday night’s tea.
My brother and I still fight over the crinkle cut chips mum fries in the chip pan which must be older than me. I’d attempt to eat as fast I could to get in for seconds before my brother could dive in to take, what I believed to be, the lion’s share but rarely made it. There’s something about those golden fries which brings out the worst in us!
I pray that, in whatever food is lovingly provided, there’s no celery soup – I can see the frightful soup in re-used Stork pots sitting in the chest freezer even now. And thank goodness we’re far short of February half term, when after playing in the garden in the snow or on our bikes in the street, we’d come in for Heinz oxtail or cream of tomato soup for lunch. The thought of tinned oxtail soup turns my stomach now but I’d happily tuck into some Ottolenghi oxtail stew instead!
I hope that my new nephew, Archie, will receive platefuls of love and that between us we can give him as rich a culinary heritage as my brother and I received as we were growing up. Welcome to an amazing world of food, Archie!