Food and memory are intrinsically linked. One smell, bite or even the mere mention of a dish from childhood can whisk you right back to the kitchen table you grew up around. More often than not, in these formative years, it’s our mothers who laid the foundations of our culinary memories. They’re the ones who cooked, baked, prepped and made everything better with a biscuit. They are the keepers of their own mother’s and grandmother’s recipes and (if you’re lucky) they’ll have been passing them down to you since you were old enough to pick up a wooden spoon.
If you were fortunate to be born into a family headed up by a matriarch who could give the most enthusiastic TV chefs a run for their money, then the chances are you already have a knockout canon of recipes. The beauty of our childhood food remembrances however is that they’re completely personal, not exclusive to those brought up at the table of a fantastic home cook. My own mother’s pasta bake is the stuff of legend, and not in a good way, more in a ‘how the hell did we survive that with our teeth still intact’ kind of way. It’s probably wise not to mention her Corned Beef Alaska – it was the ‘70s, after all. Her vanilla scented Melting Moment biscuits, on the other hand, whisk me straight back to standing on a chair at the table ‘helping’ her bake, the windows running with condensation inside, and rain outside. Whether we’re talking about a set-to-perfection soufflé, the tenderest roast, the perfect homemade chips (crispy on the outside, fluffy in the middle) or the ooziest cheese on toast, whatever food you associate with ‘home’ and your mum, is the food that will forever hold a special place in your heart, making you feel comforted and safe.
As we get older, leave home and create new lives for ourselves, these recipes and dishes take on a renewed role. Food trends come and go and old recipes are tweaked, taking on new guises to suit the audience and the time. If you weren’t blessed with a well-thumbed Be-Ro cook book from your mum or reams of hand-written, dog-eared recipes, then it’s never, ever too late to pick up a cookbook and start your own family food traditions. Start them today. I knew I’d done something right as a parent when my then toddler daughter, baking with my mum, went misty-eyed and asked for me. She had smelled the vanilla essence as it was added to the fairy cake batter. Hopefully it triggered a memory of us baking together, like mine with my mum. She’s taller than me now, but we still bake together. Long may that continue.
I hope you’re lucky enough to be sharing a table this Mother’s Day with the generations of women who shaped both you and your larder; perhaps your own children are cooking up a storm for you? However you’re celebrating, happy Mother’s Day, one and all, here’s hoping that Corned Beef Alaska isn’t on the menu.