Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Generosity of Food


When I was a little girl, everyone around me could cook. It may not have been with the sophistication that is sometimes expected today. It may not have been with the variety of produce that we can access today. But the food we ate, was always cooked and served with love.

It was often homegrown, or windfall, and nearly always from produce of the season.

The neighbours swapped backyard produce, swapped gossip, and swapped recipes.

I was reminded of backyard swaps, only this afternoon. I stopped the car to pick up a bag of fresh limes. There was a handwritten poster at the side of the road: "Limes $2 a bag". The two young boys, young entreprenuers were selling the limes from their overladen backyard tree. The limes look delightful as they adorn my dining table, and the aroma permeates. They'll later be used for a range of delicious treats.

When I was a little girl, of seven turning eight, my grandmother died. She died the day before my eight birthday, and my birthday party. I did not realise what that meant. Nanna lived just down the road and I saw her everyday. The party went ahead as planned. The party was still filled with joy, and family, and neighbours, and friends. The party was complete, with happy homebaked party food of cupcakes, and chocolate crackles, of fairy bread, and home made sausage rolls. Nanna wasn't there. All of the neighbours had rallied round to make sure that my party was well catered.

I miss those days sometimes, more innocent, more honest days, when neighbours swapped hand written recipes over the back fence, or over a cup of tea. The hand written recipes in mum's cupboard have little notes on the pages of her book, along with the stains from many kitchen uses, and inside the cover, more recipes on loose pieces of paper of the neighbours' hand writings. "I'd cook an extra ten minutes." "Add less sugar". "Lemon rind is a delicious extra".

I learnt to cook at the apron of other women. My mum could bake. So could her sister my Aunty Dossie. My love of cooking did not come from TV celebrity chefs. I'd look forward to the letters from the country that contained a hand written recipe to add to my collection. My Aunty Mona was also a good cook. She had worked in a cake shop and taught me the work ethic of always leaving a kitchen clean and tidy when you are finished. That is part of the job!

My brother and I played restaurants at home. Rodney went on to cook professionally for all of his working life. I just cooked professionally in the middle of my career. In truth, I was disappointed with the attitude, of some, that business brings to food. I had entered cooking with a belief that food is nurturing and loving and generous. There are many who have that belief and I always enjoy their company. There are some, a disappointing few, however, that have the attitude that food is elite, pretentious and arrogant. Food is none of these things. Good food is above all honest!

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