Time, Place, Memory

Time, Place, Memory

So much of what we absorb and retain as memory is linked to the emotion of the event – that first step onto foreign soil, childhood parties, romantic dinners, shared family occasions.  For me food I have tasted on holiday carries with it all the freedom and excitement of travel, recreating foods from afar profoundly appeals to my innate sense of nostalgia, as does cooking from another era.

My bookshelves are filled with books on cooking, art and history more or less in equal measure – those things which give us culture.  I have always felt anachronistic, marooned in the 21st Century, a refugee from a bygone era, dazzled by neon fast food and bewildered by the notion of a protein bar – isn't that a steak? To bring some order to my thoughts and make sense of my experiences I have always deferred to history, to avert panic and bring a  considered calm to my life.  That is not to say that I am trapped in the past, I just believe there is so much to learn from what has gone before us.

Tasting the culture of a new place is exquisitely exciting even if the food isn't.  The first meal I ate in Ireland was a very ordinary Lamb and Guinness Shank Stew, yet it was sublime.  The wind was fierce and laden with a sleety rain that threatened to cut right through your skin and render the flesh from your bones.  We had walked through crowds of rugby fans, attempting invisibility, trying to shield ourselves from a fight lingering moments away somewhere in the throng... so we sought refuge in a small, ordinary place that we understood was a restaurant, though it really did appear to be someone's living room.  The forks didn't match the knives, the plates were chipped and the table was covered with what looked like pre-war bloomers; no matter, the cold was biting and we were starved.   The Lamb (yes lamb with a capital L) was magnificent.  It melted from the bone, diving down into a lake of glossy gravy, via a fjord of mashed potatoes, heaven.

RefreshmentSimilarly, on retreating from a blisteringly hot day in Prague we ordered a simple meal (which as it transpires I can't remember) because what accompanied the meal was a carafe of  'Prague Sunset' (also known as a Magic Sunset) – a cocktail made with Becherovka, orange juice, grenadine and lots of ice.  Lordy! I have since made it at home, but the flavour has never quite replicated that long lost steamy day next to the Charles Bridge, thankfully it has also not replicated the following morning...

In every place I have visited I have immersed myself in the history, seeking out those 'authentic' foodie experiences and vigilant facsimiles of the past.  A cliché it may be, but it has also allowed me some tremendous experiences.  Walking sleepless through the streets of Paris or Bruges or Vienna allows you to glimpse the forgotten hours, those hours just before sunrise when in the enchanting light of pre-dawn people scurry about the markets and streets, baking bread, delivering veges and brewing strong, strong coffee.  When standing outside a boulangerie at 4am, it is all too easy imagine yourself trussed up in a corset, hair sculpted into a escargot atop your head, a wicker basket tucked under your arm, horse tethered behind you.... and who's to say you can't do that now? 

And yet without the modern conveniences of refrigeration, gas hobs, websites, ice-cream makers, mixers, polished countertops, vanilla coke, candy thermometers, frozen berries, dishwashers, eight kinds of sugar, microwaves, tinned tomatoes, stick blenders and instant coffee I doubt many of us would survive long in the ensuing chaos.  Which, in its own way, gives me the permission I need to pursue my anachronistic indulgences and espouse the wonders of home baked bread and preserves, long after necessity requires it of us.