When things are hard, food can be a retreat, a space to go to in isolation to accomplish something individual, solitary. Thom Eagle writes of both the simplicity and complexity of cooking – it can be both at once.
But this week I have been more concerned with food stories, connections to communities past and present. The toddler and I made fairy cakes together this week. Yes, the doing was the important bit, and the excuse to spend some time mixing and measuring together was the real purpose. But the toasty smell of baking sponge cakes connects me to my own childhood baking, in a way that’s hard to pin down. Here are some food stories from this week:
Yemisi Aribisala won the Andre Simon prize for her book about Nigerian food Longthroat Memoirs. In an excerpt published in the Guardian this weekend, she talks about the complicated combination of “psychological fare and gastronomical fanfare”. That comfort and familiarity and tradition are at least as important as the quality of the ingredients and the pedigree of the cook.
Elly Pear is interviewed by the excellent folk at online magazine The Pool about her cafe and her cooking life. She is unequivocally enthusiastic about the power of social media to connect her to those who are cooking her recipes, giving her instant feedback on her impact on other people’s lives.
Food52 documents the life of Princess Pamela, soul food restauranteur of sixties New York, whose recipe book is about to be reprinted after 47 years out of print. Reading between the lines of that piece, she had a clear idea of the food that connected to her South Carolina upbringing – and if you disagreed, you could be thrown out.
I have been re-reading Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires – what could be more escapist that reading about nineties New York restaurants at this point? In the chapter she writes about steakhouses, she discovers doorways into her childhood memories – the restaurant her family visited and the waiters that doted on her, and the memory of buying steak with her father evoked by a dinner at Peter Luger’s steakhouse:
As the waiter walked across that great barn of a restaurant, the meat aroma grew so intense that I was suddenly back in Jimmy’s shop. The scent of steak was like the sound of a trumpet cutting through the air, so high and clear that it triumphed over every other sense. Then the soft richness was filling my mouth, and it was a taste as old as I was and for a moment I merged with the flavor so that I had disappeared completely. This was a greak steak. I had found what I was looking for.
Ruth Reichl – Garlic and Sapphires
No one can quite compare with MFK Fisher’s talent for telling food stories. The food is almost incidental – the stories are the thing. This one imprinted itself on my memory so firmly that when I saw a twitter plea for ideas for canapes, I was compelled to look up the original. I almost imagine that the food memory is mine, so evocative is the writing:
The Palm Court was dim and quiet in the lull before dinner. An occasional shadowy waiter pussyfooted in the edges of light and sound, checking on tables, flowers, unlighted candles. Our small table was an island in a hushed sea. We drank slowly from almost invisible glasses, so thin, a blanc de blanc champagne. It was balm to my thirsty spirit, too long in the jumping-off place for all the younf recruits being shipped West to the East. M. Herault scudded toward us with a plate in a huge napkin and then rushed off after postlegal compliments from my host, and we unveiled the prettiest pile of the tiniest sandwiches in the whole world, I am sure. They were delicately brown, very crisp, hot, and precisely the thickness and width of a silver dollar. Unbelievably, they were made of an inner and outer slice of white bread, with a layer of Parma ham and one of Gruyere cheese between. They were apparently tossed in a flash of sweet butter and rushed to be eaten. They seemed to evaporate in the mouth, like fried mimosa blossoms. They were an astonishing thing, in fact … minute and complete.
from MFK Fisher’s – With Bold Knife and Fork
Doesn’t it make you want to dash to the kitchen, and make that ultimate comfort food, a toasted cheese sandwich?