Sunday, April 5, 2009

on food and celebrations

This week is mum's birthday, and I have a big '0' birthday not too long afterwards ...

I got to thinking about celebrations and the part that food plays, and has always played in the defining moments of our life. Birthdays are just one of the celebratory milestones of course. On a personal note we also have births, deaths, marriages, coming of age, and more. These celebrations mark the passage of our lives. There are also celebrations in community, whether that is spiritual or other. Food is significant in all of these, and sometimes symbolic as well.

Each year for mum's birthday, we try and make her feel even more special to us, by selecting the foods for her family birthday celebration from amongst her favourites. For her birthday in April, in Sydney, in Australia, this will mean that some of her favourites are in season: figs, persimmons, pomegranates, chestnuts, artichokes, spinach, white sweet potatoes, mushrooms... Mum's getting on and it only just dawned on me that most of her top favourites are autumnal, and I then wondered if they 'are' favourites 'because' they relate to childhood memories of birthday food, birthday celebrations. Quite possibly so. Many of these foods are also my favourites too!

The pomengranate has found recent fashionable favour. Its been hailed for the health benefits it bestows. It's long been a favourite in our family. Until recently I did not remember knowing anyone who treasured a pomegranate the way that mum did. That labour of love has another memory for mother and daughter too. Early last year we cruised The Nile. Each morning the breakfast table was laden. I selected one item only: a very very generous portion of pomegranate seeds in juice, a treasure I would not have time to indulge in as a daily ritual at home. When I think of the pomegranate, I'll always remember that marvellous holiday with mum.

While there are many significant life experiences tied to food, one of my greatest memories is from my friend Janina's wedding. Janina is of Polish background, and food in her family symbolises that bond. It is nurturing and generous and shared. Every menu item at Janina's wedding was carefully selected. The caterers could reheat, plate, serve but the food had been cooked by the family. We were warmed and welcomed into the celebration with a demitasse of abalone chowder. This was a family treat, the abalone was dived for by her brothers on the morning of the wedding, she had cooked the chowder herself fresh from the sea.

The feast continued and each dish represented a memory of her family. The festivities finished with breaking of the bread, signifying the union and the part that each friend or family member had and would play in their marriage.

Food is also represented not only in religious festivals, but there is also a required respite from food at certain religious times in the calendar.

There are other food associations too. Not of the significant personal milestone, but celebrating achievements in events or by people. Some that come to mind are the naming of the meringue dessert after the dancer Pavlova, or the dessert Peach Melba in honour of the opera singer Dame Nelly Melba. Then comes to mind the other April celebration commemorating the valour of our soldiers Australian New Zealand Army Corp ANZAC. Our family recipe for ANZAC biscuits is on the Becca's Bakery post:

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