It's just a good job that you can't put on weight by reading about food, or I'd be six foot under by now!
On one of my visits to MyDish.co.uk, I tripped over a blog posting regarding what sorts of foods make you feel all nostalgic and that got me to thinking.
In the blog post, there were things mentioned like Arctic Roll - which I remember fondly, but not especially nostalgically. However, they really pushed a button with their mention of Dripping on Toast, which I remember my Dad introducing me to at an early age - whilst being seriously tutted at by my Mum. In these days of being health-conscious, such delights as Dripping on Toast are little short of evil, but the utter deliciousness of the meaty flavours backed up by the richness of the fat on the crunchy toast belies its origins as staple food for the impoverished.
Thinking back to when I was just a little girl, the first and strongest food memory was the smell of my Nanna's kitchen. We lived abroad a lot of the time and came home to England to visit my Nanna & Gramps as often as we were able. To this day, the smell of fried bacon & egg, with an undercurrent of cabbage, will always remind me of my Nanna's kitchen. I have no idea if she did, but it seemed to me that she always sent my Gramps off to work having had a bacon & egg breakfast, while the waft of cabbage lingered from dinner the night before.
Moving forward from there, I vividly remember a picnic lunch we had when on holiday in the Black Forest (Germany). My Dad stopped the car in a lay-by and out of the boot came a picnic table and four fold-up chairs, a Camping Gaz burner and kettle. From out of the insulated bag (no chiller boxes in those days) came butter (real butter, not low-fat spread), a french loaf and the most mysterious thing - a tinned roast chicken.
While Dad was getting the kettle filled and put on to boil, Mum would be cutting big chunks of bread and dismembering the chicken. The sheer pleasure of sitting on that camping chair, surrounded by my family, on holiday and eating chilled roast chicken on crusty bread slathered with real butter whilst the occasional car sailed past us, is beyond measure.
Isn't it funny, how food can often be associated with a particular activity? For many years, I owned horses and every weekend in the summer was taken up with showing my Highland ponies at County shows. My very good friend Marion and I had a deal, whereby she would be allocated a space in our lorry for her horse, Arthur, in return for copious quantities of egg sandwiches. Now I could call them egg mayonnaise sandwiches, but they were more correctly, egg & salad cream sandwiches made on white sliced (probably) Mother's Pride bread.
These sandwiches would provide breakfast and lunch (and sometimes even tea) for us throughout the day - and we never ventured out without them. I remember well, the day when we were taking the ponies to a show that was fairly nearby and decided to travel in the back of the lorry with them, instead of sitting in the cab - which was more usual. There we sat, in one of the empty spaces, on camping chairs whilst tucking into egg sandwiches and drinking coffee from a flask. Good times! Yes, we were easily pleased.
In fact, sliced white bread has quite a foothold in my nostalgic food memories, as it features heavily in the next.
I worked for an electronics company in Tolworth, Surrey. Every morning, a little van would appear and a lady would come round with a basket of sandwiches. This was very welcome, as to buy a sandwich ordinarily would entail getting onto my motorbike and riding to the nearest shops - which as we were on the side of a dual carriageway, involved a lot of driving just to get across the road.
My favourite sandwich was a plain old cheese version. However, I've never experienced cheese sandwiches like this anywhere again. The bread was the dreaded sliced white and she used real butter (you can see a trend appearing here, can't you?). However, instead of using pre-grated cheese, she would cut thick slabs from an even bigger block of medium cheddar the likes of which I've never found since and lay them onto the buttered bread. I can tell you - with a cup of company coffee, there wasn't anything nicer.
Thinking back to when I began cooking for myself, I can remember that my favourite sort of meal involved some kind of oven-baked meat (pork chop, for instance), mashed potato and home-made coleslaw. I've made coleslaw with just about everything that there is to make coleslaw with, over the years. You name it, I've tried it - red cabbage is particularly exciting to use, as you wind up with a delicate shade of pink. Just don't tell John Torode. (He of the "there is no form of pink food that is acceptable on a plate" fame). A perfect coleslaw, for me, involves a basic five ingredients - white cabbage, grated carrot, a teensy bit of spring onion, some sultanas and mayonnaise. After that, it's open season as to what you put in, but I'd be happy with just those five.
So, if I were to lay on a dinner party for my family which involved three courses of food that makes me nostalgic, I think it would include the following.
I'd be torn between an Avocado Prawn and a Cream of Celery Soup as a starter. The Avocado Prawn takes me back to my Nanna & Gramps' Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary party which was held at Thatchers Hotel in Leatherhead, Surrey. It was there that I sampled the delight that is an Avocado Prawn (half an avocado, filled with prawns & covered in Marie Rose sauce) for the first time. However, Cream of Celery Soup is also evocative, bringing back memories of chilly days spent being home from school with another of an endless parade of sore throats. Sitting on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket, feeling sorry for myself but being warmed from the inside out by the loveliness that is Cream of Celery Soup.
The main course just doesn't require any thought. Cottage Pie. That is, Shepherd's Pie except made with Beef mince instead of Lamb - making it a Cottage Pie. The memory that this recalls, is of sitting at the dining table making a landscape out of my dinner - and being allowed to do so. Now if ever there was "fiddling about with your dinner and not eating it", this was it. However, I'd like to make green fields of peas, with snow-covered fields of mash, bordered by the brown of a ploughed field and the oddness of an orange carrot-coloured field. I'd make sheep out of tiny pieces of mashed potato to put in my green fields, and chestnut horses out of my carrots. Once I was happy with the picture - and not before - I'd eat it. I'm really not sure whether my parents were aware of what was behind all this fiddling about with my food. I'll have to ask them!
Dessert is another easy one - Queen of Puddings. With its caramelised meringue top, through a lovely jammy layer into the softness of the bready, puddingy underside, Queen of Puddings would always get my vote. I remember it as being the dessert I'd always ask for on my birthday and one that we didn't get terribly often, because it was a fairly involved dessert to make and when money is tight, finding the eggs required wasn't all that easy.
Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, it's not a very exciting "dinner party" menu - but it would make me very happy!
MyDish.co.uk are holding a competition to win £100 Marks & Spencer vouchers in return for hearing about your nostalgic food. With Christmas coming, it seems to me to be a time to have a wallow in nostalgia, especially if there's the chance of such a great prize at the end!