Recently, my mum brought over a pack of Tunnocks Caramel wafer biscuits, as it would have been my Nan’s 103rd birthday on 19 January 2022, and they remind us of her. Nan used to work in the cafeteria of a City bank in London, and often had catering size packs of food in her flat, and there usually was a box or two of the caramel wafer biscuits hanging around. I strongly remember her bringing a box to our holiday in Porthcawl in the mid-eighties, and my brother and I nearly pulling our teeth out, greedily chomping on the hard caramel biscuit. It started me thinking about how many of our memories are made through food, and how food can remind us of those we love (like my Grandad and his Chips) and so here comes a nostalgic look back at some of my foodie memories.
Foodie memories of Nanny Hilda
As the thought of my nan started off this post, I have to share a few foodie memories of her – my mum’s mum. We spent many weekends and school holidays with her (first with my mum and dad when we were young, and then on our own as we got a bit older), at her and my Grandad’s flat in Elephant and Castle (a council flat in the infamous Aylesbury Estate, famed for Tony Blair saying modern Brits should not live in such squalor and it should be torn down), and it’s no exaggeration to say that she waited on my brother and me hand and foot, and spoiled us rotten. Friday night fish and chips from the chippy, bacon and eggs for weekend breakfasts (she always ate our bacon fat), a trip to East Street market followed by the choice of a treat from M&S on the Walworth Road (usually chocolate coated biscuits of some description which Jason and I would gobble up while watching The Smurfs on Sunday morning), then lunch of our choice at either the pie and mash shop (Arments, which I now order online to reheat at home!) or MacDonalds, and roast dinner for Sunday lunch followed by help yourself for tea, with fancy Mr Kipling cakes.
Her kitchen was full of packs of sugar cubes which were a pain to melt into the milk and Birds custard powder, when I helped her make custard for pudding on Sundays. She had tins of weird things in her cupboard, like mock turtle soup, from hampers she received as gifts at Christmas from her boss. She had a broken pressure cooker on top of the freezer which stored random crap like bingo sheets, pens, and rubber bands. And in her fridge she kept a pot of dripping and fat, which she used to make roast potatoes on Sundays.
Foodie memories of my dad
My dad died just before I turned nine years old, leaving a hole in my heart which has never fully healed. One of the hardest things I have experienced in losing him so young is that I feel cheated of all the memories we could have made together, and the ones we did make have faded over time, even though I have tried so hard to keep them alive. But the two memories I have of him which are associated with food are tinned ravioli, which he always used to cook for my brother and me when he was in charge of dinner, and the holes of doughnuts.
I am happy to forget tinned ravioli and never eat it again (Andrew likes it, and whenever I see a tin of it in our cupboard I think of dad), but doughnut holes are much more special to me. I remember having “Munchkins” as a treat – they were basically small round doughnuts with different toppings, and my parents always explained to me that they were made of the bits which were removed from normal doughnuts to make the hole! Having a box of them to share as we sat together at the kitchen breakfast bar was such a treat (they always seemed ginormous, and covered in sugary icing), and I was delighted to visit Canada and discover TimBits in Tim Hortons coffee shop, which are basically the same thing. Ioan now loves the Krispy Kreme versions, but my goodness they are expensive.
Food memories with mum
Alongside mum telling me off for stealing the Christmas sausage rolls as they lay cooling on the counter in the kitchen, or her letting me pinch the crispy bit off the leg of roast lamb for Sunday lunch, or her deep frying the mini chicken kievs and the insides exploding out into the hot oil, the main memory I have of food with mum is eating or baking cakes. I have mentioned elsewhere is the coffee and walnut cake my mum and I used to love, bought from the farm shop in Sussex. She also used to make us cherry and coconut cake, and there’s something about that combination which makes me think fondly of my childhood, and fighting with my brother to lick the bowl of cake mix (probably a bit more dangerous in those days, with the risk of salmonella!), plus pinching one or two glacé cherries whilst they were being weighed out. There’s a nice recipe here, which I made as part of my GBBO series, although the coconut is missing you could just chuck in some desiccated coconut. There aren’t many cakes which I don’t think of fondly to be honest, although fruit cakes are not my favourite, and I cannot stand anything which has mixed peel in it.
Pie and mash
I have mentioned many times on this blog my love of pie and mash, so I won’t harp on about it again – read my love story here. But I can’t not mention it in a blog post about foodie memories.
We were lucky enough to visit Spain on holiday a couple of times as children, and often, with our meals at local restaurants, we’d be given a slice of baguette with a piece of tortilla on top (Spanish omelette made of potato and onion) as a little tapas starter. The father of a Spanish school friend of mine gave me an authentic recipe (top tip: fry the onions and potatoes and then pour those into the egg, and then pour the mixture into the pan), and mum and I made it occasionally (and then gobbled it up together in one go). I cannot go to a Spanish restaurant without ordering a chunk of it – so simple, but so delicious.
I have actually only had this dish twice – it’s the signature soufflé at Le Gavroche restaurant, which I have only been to twice – and it is a simple egg soufflé which sits like a big cloud on a plate, swimming in double cream and topped with Gruyère cheese. Decadent, rich, and full of flavour, Andrew and I dream about this soufflé, and I can’t wait until the day we can have it again!
Although I was born in Hammersmith and grew up in North London, I moved to West Sussex to study at university, and didn’t return to London until a couple of years after graduation, this time with Andrew. Having worked as a PA to the Head of Facilities of an NHS Trust, being able to touch type and write shorthand, with a degree in English literature and history under my belt, I was lucky enough to get a job the day I moved to London, at Flemings Asset Management, which became part of JPMorgan Asset Management shortly afterwards.
To celebrate the success of my job interview, I treated myself to lunch from the M&S in Moorgate (I was obviously feeling flush after discovering my new salary, as M&S would have been well out of my price range beforehand): a chicken Caesar salad roll. I had never heard of chicken Caesar salad but the roll looked tasty, so I sat down on a bench in Finsbury Circus, in my fancy new (cheap) suit, and dug in. I will never forget that first taste of sharp and salty cheese, which was like no cheese I had tasted before. I thought Parmesan was a weird dust which came in tubs, which my mum let us sprinkle on to our spaghetti bolognaise – I had no idea that cheese could taste this good!
Of course, not all foodie memories can be good (rather like alcohol ones!) and the mere sniff of marzipan – or even a sweet almond taste – makes me feel sick. As a teenager, I ended up sick in hospital shortly after eating almond croissants (the two things were entirely unrelated), and I cannot disconnect the two in my brain.
Making new foodie memories
As well as being reminded of my past through food, it’s really important for me to make new foodie memories with Ioan.
Obviously the best bit about baking is licking the bowl and spoon, which my brother and I used to fight over when we were little:
Mixing the Christmas cake for our annual stir it up Sunday:
Making welsh cakes on St David’s Day:
Making fresh pasta from scratch every Christmas Eve:
What are your favourite foodie memories?
Alice Hilda Eyres – 1919 – 1994