I recently re-read ‘Eating for England’ by Nigel Slater, for no other reason than I wanted to indulge in a moment of nostalgia. It’s the kind of book you can whizz through quickly but gets your mind rolling back through time. With that in mind, I started jotting down a couple of my own memories and was surprised by how many of my memories had some kind of association with food. I will no doubt write more about this in the future but for now, here are a few of my favourite things..
Sitting in front of the electric fire with rocky bars letting the chocolate melt just enough for it to be warm but not dripping off.
Paxo- On a Sunday, we would go to my Nan’s for dinner. Everyone would pitch in with some aspect of dinner and my job was often to make the stuffing. This required little effort other than opening the packet of Paxo and mixing it with butter and water before pressing it into a glass dish to be cooked in the oven.
Watching the grill intently to see when our ‘Butter toast’ was ready, this was essentially a slice of buttered bread that went under the grill and was toasted on one side only. There was something very satisfying about biting into it and feeling soft, butter soaked bread against your bottom teeth as the top ones met the crisp toasted side.
Mom’s Spag Bol – This has evolved over the years but to begin with it was a cheap dinner that could conceal a wealth of vegetables that limited the amount of meat needed. My brother and I would sit at the dining room table chopping carrots, peeling mushrooms and trying to cut celery into even sizes. This not only occupied us for some time, but meant we learnt how to use a knife safely at a young age and looked forward to cooking. Eating the carrots as we went along we enjoyed browning the meat off stood on stools by the cooker, crumbling the oxo cube into the wok (we have always used a wok for this for some reason) and frying off the onions. We would cook this for several hours on a very low heat so that it turned into a dark, rich sauce with chunks of beef mince simmering within it. As we got older (and with more disposable income), the recipe developed and we added wine, balsamic vinegar and moved to a blend of both pork and beef mince with pancetta for saltiness. Everyone has their own version of this and I’m confident that many Italians would say this is not a traditional bolognaise sauce but it doesn’t matter- even now if my mom makes this she will make a couple of extra portions for me to take home. Without question, this is served with spaghetti, grated cheddar and a slice of garlic bread for scooping up the sauce.
Fried egg sandwiches – Whilst I haven’t eaten one of these for at least 10 years, as a child this was what my dad would make me if I was ill and off school. It was also probably one of the only things I would have with tomato sauce.
Egg-in-a-cup – Another simple meal but one I still make now, this is essentially boiled eggs crushed with butter,salt and pepper so that it forms a chunky, buttery paste. I have this with a couple of slices of toast.
Cheese on a plate- Cheap and cheerful and a clear indicator that I ate some questionably unhealthy things as a child. We had one of those ovens that had a grill above the hob so that if you put anything heavy on it, you would have to hold it in place to stop it from falling off and smashing on the floor. A favourite of my Dad’s, we would grate mild cheddar cheese onto a plate and grill it until it went crispy and brown around the edges and gooey in the middle. This needed to be removed from the grill with care as the plate would be steaming hot and there would be pools of fat ontop of the cheese just waiting to scald your hands. Once placed on the table, we would cut slices from it and eat it on a piece of bread and butter. This is one of the things that I just couldn’t stomach now.
Dairylea triangles (in the original form not the new wrapper that they now come in) There was a spell where different varieties were available and we had a bacon flavoured version.
Fettucine Alfredo- This was my go-to dinner of choice (carbs, I just love carbs..) during a period when we had microwave meals in the house as my mom worked a late evening job and this meant we could eat when we were hungry. This version was very peppery and came with a lot of creamy sauce which I would sometimes mop up with a slice of bread. It doesn’t matter where I eat this now, nothing quite matches up to my rose-tinted memory of eating this straight out of the waxy tub and burning my fingers on the steam as I peeled the film off the top.
Sausage Pitta’s- This was a budget dinner that we would often have when my Dad visited on a Wednesday. There was nothing fancy about this, we just toasted pitta breads, filled them with caramelised onions and had a plate of sausages on the middle of the table. I would always have Heinz barbecue sauce with mine, my dad would sometimes have chips with his.
Birthday Treats – One tradition that we still follow, is that on your birthday you get to choose what you have for dinner. For me, Chicken Satay with Long Grain and Wild rice was the ultimate treat – probably not that conventional for a 7 year old… We would make it with extra sauce because I liked a lot of peanuts. This would always be followed by the champion of all puddings – Black Forest Gateaux with some squirty cream. I still attest that the flavours of this are my favourite but as much as I loved the Sara Lee version I prefer a less mass-produced version now.
Hedgehog bread – In the world of Pinterest this is a bit more well-known now, but as kids it was always difficult to explain to people that we made our own bread at home that looked like hedgehogs.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli – unsurprisingly I went though a ‘no-vegetables’ phase yet no matter how much I protested about peas or sprouts I would always eat this, albeit it was a treat given how often it would be available at the green-grocers.
Findus Crispy Pancakes and Alphabites- Not all food memories are of things I would eat, for what seems like an unbelievably long time my brother would only eat Minced Beef Crispy pancakes and Alphabites with some tomato sauce. My memory is off him suspending a chunk of pancake covered in sauce on the end of his fork like a lollipop. I would eat this sometimes, but can’t say it was ever that exciting. This was during his ‘fussy eating’ phase where we had to remove all salt from the house because he would cover his food in it until it was white. I didn’t eat salt again until I was in my late 20’s and started getting cramp in my legs during exercise.
More to follow..