When the weather is like this – the sky, the bare trees, the wilting hedge are all roughly the same colour, and rain drips half-heartedly (also known as miserable) – I remember when Fiona, my mum and I would arrive home in the car from a trip or just the tedium that was school, and my mum would tell us about the hot chocolate advert from her childhood. I always loved her stories about her as a little girl; it was so incomprehensible putting her grown up face on a child, but it also made her appear much more human, not just my superhero mummy. Through hazy memory I can still visualise this advert: a man running home in cold, bleak weather, chanting, ‘hot chocolate drinking chocolate, hot chocolate drinking chocolate,’ while a steaming mug awaited him. We would chant this in the car before dashing inside and making it for ourselves.
The smell of roast lamb and mint sauce
Every time we visited my dad’s parents in Sheffield it was accompanied by the smell of roast lamb. For years after this I decided I didn’t like lamb, not to insult my granny’s cooking but because the smell was so pungent. The smell of lamb is directly associated with the taste so I felt full before the meal began. A little glass bowl filled with green and sloppy mint sauce was served alongside it, which I always (politely) rejected. Strong flavours are not acceptable to a child’s palette when all they’d rather be eating are Frubes or Dairylea Dunkers. Now, however, I only smell roast lamb and my mouth waters as I nostalgically recall my granny and her two-course roast ritual.
This concept peppered my childhood and was nothing more than occasional forkfuls of food we were already eating. But, as the choice cuts were slowly selected by my mum while I watched enthralled before the fork zipped into my eager mouth, these mouthfuls were abundantly better than any I could feed myself. I would attempt to imitate her choice of food but each time I would fall short of the dream. ‘Tasty mouthfuls’ accompanied my dad’s cooked breakfasts of fried eggs with burst yellow yolks, bacon, crispy fried bread, mushrooms, and maybe a hashbrown or baked beans if we were lucky.
Holidays are always a treasure trove of food memories; thanks to the unusual place, your uncannily sweaty visage, and the activities, beaches and ice cream, memories stand out vividly. I remember a trip to Spain aged seven, where, incidentally, I started and fell in love with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, a love which will never die, and where I tried kidneys for the first time. Instant regret. Our holiday to the East Coast of America in 1997 was the first step for my culinary career (aged five). The utter outlandishness of our log-cabin near the sea was like a fantasy land. I loved playing house in this home from home and sharing a room with 3-year-old Fiona who would run around at night, when she was meant to be asleep, pillows on her front and back claiming, ‘I’m a sandwich!’ During the day, she and I would escape to the garden and disappear under a huge sycamore tree. There we would build barbecues – digging a hole in the soft ground which we covered with regimented lines of twigs. On this highly effective cooking device we would build burgers of moss and sycamore seeds, and patiently ‘cook’ them, ultimately frying the bun as well as the meat. We were also introduced to American cookies – soft and chewy like a brownie, not the hard dunkables to be eaten with a cup of tea here. Now I can’t eat one of those chocolate chip cookies without thinking of America and Barney the Dinosaur cassette tapes as my family and I drove around exploring.