I appear to be on the verge of obsession with the idea of food memories and the emotions we attach to them whether they be jubilant, best forgotten, sensual or repulsive.
It seems I am not alone in this, having spent the weekend tirelessly rifling through the contents of my book shelves, specifically food related, I am becoming increasingly enamoured of the various authors’ ability to reach us on a level much deeper than appetite alone.
Nigella Lawson -one of my favourites - is vulgarly (and naively, I add) thought of as the curvy chick moaning and groaning her way through her T.V shows. She is an enchanting writer. Her extravagant use of adjectives along with a talent for evocation often leaves those teeny hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I was rendered furious when I read some thing’s comments on the use of adjectives: ‘material is littered with adjectives where normal people wouldn't bother; all in the name of making something sound better...’ er, is that not kind of the point?
If I told you nice people that I was going to prepare a cheese and potato pie and then insert said pie into the oven and apply heat for a pre-determined time, ingest it and continue with my life you’d be bored out of your minds, left cold. If I told you glistering individuals that I was going to generously fill a dish with mounds of fluffy, buttery, mustard spiced mashed potatoes in which handfuls of sharp cheddar cheese were hiding aching to be placed into an oven and baked for 35 minutes by which time the top of the pie would be scorched and crisp you’d be entertained and, more importantly, hungry!
It is with this sentiment that I find myself welling up as Ms. Lawson explains how, when preparing a retro classic of whitebait and deep fried parsely served with brown bread and butter, a childhood memory of eating the stuff with her late sister resurrects not only the experience but, for the brief moment she enjoys the little (poor dead) fishies, her sister too.
Other food writers, or mouthy cooks, I adore are Nigel Slater, Tamasin Day-Lewis and Antony Bourdain: supremely described as ‘Elizabeth David meets Quentin Tarantino’. You’ll remember Tony from my first post in which I re-told his fond words for people of my dietary persuasion…‘the enemy of everything that is good and decent in the human spirit’ – DELIGHTFUL, and I mean that...“treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen” my babysitter told me when I was 7.
On the subject of my childhood, and in keeping with my vigour for providing you with recipes to make up for my ramblings, here’s the aforementioned cheese and potato pie recipe. I must add that I delved deeper than I usually like to into my memories in a bid to pluck out some exotic, snobby recipe to regale you with – but, truth be told, this one persisted. True nursary food, up there with rice pudding and bananas and custard. I have pimped it, somewhat, with the addition of some caramelised onions and a spoonful of Dijon mustard. As a child I would find my mother’s version comforting yet tiresome to eat after a few spoonfuls.
Cheese and Potato Pie by The Vigilant Veggie
600g potatoes (use one that’ll give a decent mash – I used Maris Piper, King Edward is also a fine choice)
1 tbl sp vegetable oil
3 tbl sp butter
2 medium onions, finely sliced
2 tsp caster sugar
2 tbl sp Dijon mustard
200g cheddar cheese, grated
2 medium tomatoes, finely sliced
Salt and pepper
Bake the potatoes, left whole with their skins rubbed with a little oil and placed directly onto the bars of a preheated 200c oven, for 50 minutes to an hour, or until the flesh is completely tender; this will depend on their size.
Meanwhile, heat the oil and 1 tbl sp of the butter in a medium frying pan and add the onions. Once softened sprinkle over the sugar and a little salt and pepper and leave to caramelise for approximately 15 minutes by which time they will be dark brown and candied – set aside.
Once the potatoes are tender throughout allow them to cool slightly before cutting in half and scooping out the flesh into a spacious bowl. Mash the potatoes (using a fork or masher) to remove any lumps and set aside.
Heat the remaining butter and milk together (I popped them in a bowl and into the microwave for a couple of minutes) and stir the mixture into the potatoes using a wooden spoon to ensure they are thoroughly combined. Add the mustard and season to taste – don’t add the butter, milk, mustard and seasoning all at once, add it bit by bit until you are left with a taste and texture of personal taste.
Once personal potato perfection has been obtained stir in the cheese, reserving a little to sprinkle on top.
Decant the onions into the base of an oven proof dish and top with the potato mixture, a layer of tomato slices and a final scattering of cheese. Bake in an 180c preheated oven for 35 minutes or until burnished and bubbling.
Serve alone or with a green salad or, as I did as a child (and still do) with baked beans and ketchup.
If you haven’t the time for baking potatoes I suggest boiling them in their skins to avoid them becoming water logged creating an insipid mash.
A few spoons of onion jam mixed into the onions, once cooked, would provide a great depth of flavour, as would a few sprigs of thyme.
You could use any mustard you enjoy; be it wholegrain, English or, indeed, none at all.
Cheddar is a classic in this, for me, but this also works well with a mixture of gruyere and hard goat cheese – the sweet nuttiness of the former balancing out the lactic sourness of the latter.
Now, some homework for you; gather some friends and family and initiate a conversation motivated by a culinary memoire.
There are few things I am certain of in life, very few, but I can almost guarantee that participants will fight for air-time whilst reliving and reviving a point in their life where food made them feel a certain way. Another guarantee is that the stories will be largely romanticised from a childhood filled with strawberry picking and Nan’s bread and butter pudding – the childhood we all wished we had. Who cares? If I cared about such intricacies then I would agree with Mr. Paragraph 4’s idea that getting the point across is more important than creating a stir. I would believe that food is mere fuel!!!
In this instance the distinguishing factors of both the eats and emotions they will create do not lie in origin but in efficacy.