It’s intrinsic within us; to find and forage, eat and grow.
All my memories are linked with food. In some way or another.
And it’s never the “best” meals you ever had - ones with micro-herbs and sauces you can’t pronounce.
It’s the homely ones. The ones that make you feel warm and cosy inside.
For me, my favourite month for meals is December.
It’s the cold bite of the new frost, and a bowl of pale green celery soup, with crispy, flaky sausage rolls when, with runny noses and numb fingers, you return from your first long, wet walk of the season.
It’s digging at the allotment and running your hands through the cold water of the trough. It’s not wanting to go home; desperately pulling up carrots that aren’t ready to see the world yet. It’s a whole month spent thinking about food; drooling and stuffing our faces. It’s as a child, climbing onto rickety stools, armed with ancient wooden spoons, in tiny aprons, ready to help.
It’s tradition. Passing things on, passing things over.
It’s learning to make things just like those before you made them.
It’s making Christmas puddings with your grandmother, and wondering how many more times you’ll get to see her cracked hands make breadcrumbs. Or see her sitting on that stool with that apron on, faded and well-loved; reusing every last piece of butter wrapper as with shaky hands, she ties the string around the basin.
What if I forget? What if I don’t remember? What if it’s not the same…
It’s spending endless hours sitting whilst the puddings steam. Watching the puffs of air dance in the light of the kitchen doorway, knowing you have to wait a whole month until you can taste the fruits of your labour.
It’s passing the baton. Flicking through recipe cards, like an endless library index of culinary years gone by. Borrowing recipe books; pages glued together with drops of ancient gravy and jam. It’s the inevitable drinks and dinner parties that take weeks of long preparation. Lists of ingredients as long as your arm, using every pan and dish in the house.
Cramming endless sauces and desserts onto countertops, and balancing dishes like Jenga of things that need to set into the fridge and freezer.
Playing sous chef whilst your guests eat quail, lobster, and (attempt) oysters. Drinking wine that was probably too expensive and sipping sloe gin from tiny glasses, until you slump into your dessert.
It’s the spice of mince pies, with meticulously cut out stars to go on top. Billowing clouds of icing sugar, as you take your first taste of Christmas.
It’s hanging sparkly biscuits on the tree - later to be devoured by the mice living under the stairs. It’s Christmas Day.
It’s soft, buttery, trembling scrambled eggs on Christmas morning, with fat-sparkling bacon, in your old worn pyjamas. You’ll graduate to smoked salmon later, whilst you sip fizzy champagne and sharp sweet orange juice.
It’s ‘don’t under-cook the turkey!’
It’s chocolate coins in your stocking and canapé’s made delicately over hours, always scoffed in 5 minutes flat.
It’s the smell of the turkey as you get into your glad rags. Hearing it sizzle and spatter, from inside the oven.
Crispy pigs in blankets, a big, fat ham and creamy leeks. Always extra gravy, and bottles of pinot noir spilt on white tablecloths.
Roast potatoes and the annual bread sauce competition.
Red cabbage that leaves a sting in the back of your throat for days, and mountains of brussel sprouts, quietly edged to the corner of everyone’s plate.
It’s the endless Yorkshire pudding debate.
It’s being so stuffed you don’t know if you will ever move again.
It’s trying cheeses from places you’ve never heard of. Cheeses that are creamy and ooze all over the plate. Cheeses that are orange and black and blue. That take two hands on a very ancient cheese-knife, white-knuckled shaking to get through. It’s cheese that looks like boobs. It’s that first bite of the pudding, and knowing that despite being drenched in brandy cream, it’s lighter than air. That fruit so drunk on brandy, you’re not sure if this pudding will give you a hangover.
It’s learning that food reaches beyond the end of your table, across continents. Food is more exciting when you have to go on a plane ride to get there.
It’s making toasts to absent friends
It’s ‘are you sure you’re not hungry?’ and ‘have another chocolate, it’s Christmas!’ It’s leftover Christmas sandwiches.
And it’s food and more food, that floods out of the fridge in an endless torrent. Until finally, when there’s nothing left but the sweets that no one will eat in the tin. Or the last square of Christmas cake that no one can quite bring themselves to finish. After all the food has been neatly clingfilmed and wrapped up or tucked into the freezer for another year.
A new year begins, of tastes and smells. It will be wedding cakes and bad sandwiches, picked at at funerals. It will be bottles of wine and split packets of crisps in pub gardens. Making breakfast in bed and midnight rarebit for the one you love.
But it’s food, always the food that you remember. From one year to the next.