Food has an uncanny knack of evoking memories of our past. We spoke to two women from two different generations – mother and daughter – to see how our relationship with food develops as the years pass.
We may not fully understand why, but certain tastes and smells can transport us back to our childhood or to significant events in our lives. For Marcel Proust in Remembrance of Things Past it was a bite of a Madeleine dipped in tea that brought memories of an aunt flooding back. Sweet treats it seems are the prime conductors for this mental time travel, which was evident at a meeting of the Cook the Books Club (a monthly meeting in Lewes of cooking enthusiasts who bring a dish cooked from a favourite cookbook based around a specific theme) on ‘Nostalgia’. The room was filled with meringue kisses, Eccles cakes, chocolate cake, summer pudding and even an Arctic Roll.
Sweet foods reflects the nostalgia we feel for our childhoods; when your pudding might be as large as your head and still be guilt-free.
“I think the overwhelming quantity of sweet foods reflects the unmatched nostalgia we feel for our childhoods; when your pudding might be as large as your head and still be guilt-free,” explains Chloe King, organiser of the Cook the Books meetings. “The recipes almost exclusively reminded guests of their mothers and grandmothers. I think the most nostalgic dishes are the ones that remind us of those who have passed away, or those we love, who we don’t see often enough. When people come together over food with intention to share good memories, laughter soon follows.”
Culinary skills in the kitchen are in decline, but it’s still clearly a passion for some people, passing down knowledge and sharing food experiences, so we asked mother, Jen, and daughter, Chloe, who share a love of cooking, to give us some of their memories.
Jen Blackburn (67, Retired)
“I think it’s a gift for life growing up in a house where people can cook. You almost subconsciously take it on and as you get older you look back and really appreciate it.
“My grandmother’s kitchen had an open range. She used to boil her kettle over the fire but everything else she cooked in the oven. I used to go there after school. In the winter we used to put our feet up in front of the range because it was lovely and warm. We used to toast on it too. She used to cook very traditional foods like roasts and delicious apple turnovers. She had this enormous table in the middle of the kitchen where she would do all the meal preparation then the table would be scrubbed before dinner. It was a totally different way of life. People these days seem to be rushing all the time from A to B. Doors were never locked and people were far more sociable when I was young. The baker would even deliver bread direct to the door and fill you in on the local gossip. I think that sociability has gone now thanks to the pace of life nowadays and our reliance on technology.
My grandmother used to boil her kettle over the fire but everything else she cooked in the oven. In the winter we used to put our feet up in front of the range because it was lovely and warm.
“Modern kitchens are not cosy although they are much more stylish than ours used to be. Even after I had my children we used our kitchen table for everything from making pastry to sewing or crafting. It was a big comfortable kitchen but it was more than just a cooking sort of kitchen.
“Cooking has changed tremendously from when Chloe was a child. We used to make Bolognese but it was mostly roasts, casseroles and Toad in the Hole whereas now it’s more health food isn’t it? I always had a cooked supper and a pudding prepared for the children when they came home from school. We always had an open door – anyone could come for supper. And we always sat up at the table for dinner.
“My husband and I still cook in the evenings or at lunch time. I’m not saying everybody should cook at all. Everyone is on their own journey and they have to do what suits them.”
Chloe Coker (36, owner and teacher at The Roundtable Cookery School)
“I think I learnt a lot from watching my parents cook and always being involved. It just becomes part of your life; it’s not a conscious decision. From the age of 10 I knew how to cook a sponge cake without using a recipe because my father had taught me the basic formula.
I learnt a lot from watching my parents cook and always being involved. It just becomes part of your life.
“We used to call my father’s mother ‘Ice Cream Granny’ because she used to make this amazing ice cream long before it was common place to do so at home. But she never gave anyone the recipe. When she died I inherited her box of recipes. Her recipe cards are in with my own and its funny how coming across her handwriting brings back memories. My other grandmother was Cornish and she taught me how to make pasties but Ice Cream Granny never allowed the grandchildren help her cook. Nowadays we have a family WhatsApp group where we’re always exchanging recipes.
“I remember Sunday mornings my dad would make a roast or a stew and there were all these delicious smells coming from the kitchen. These smells still remind me of my childhood, just like the scent of tomatoes reminds me of my father’s greenhouse. And we loved the simple chicken pilaff my mother used to make. The kitchen was always central to the family. My friends used to like coming to my house because they knew they would get a good meal.
“My family eats quite differently to the way my parents eat, although they too are starting to change. We eat very few grains and we don’t eat a lot of dairy because my son has an allergy, nor do we have any refined sugar in our household. My parents always come over on a Sunday afternoon for a family supper. It’s lovely to have that connection of food and family.”