Mid-June I returned from a nine-month (ostensibly educational, truthfully culinary) jaunt in Paris, to home in South London, where my parents had remained throughout the Covid lockdown. Gearing up to move back to Edinburgh for a final year of study, I reflected on my return to familial food rhythms and routines over the last two months.
Doubtless, much of the food happenings over the course of the last eight weeks have been the stuff of cushy middle-class dreams. A delightful at-home delivery from Côte Brasserie (“they’ve not really made it clear whether the boeuf bourgingon comes with a potato puree, or whether we have to buy that separately, have they?”), a forty-five minute drive to scour speciality cheese (“I suppose we’ll have to make do with reblochon”) and a trip to an independent Surrey farm shop (“Shit, they’ve run out of those pimento olives we like”).
The Father’s Day treat from Côte saw the three of us sit down to a brasserie extravaganza in the garden. It could have been the Marais, had it not been for next door’s lawnmower and the fact that none of us were smoking.
Late June bears witness to a continuation of such decadence, with Dad deciding to splurge some saved cash on a Thermomix (egg- shaped robot set to help quicken cooking processes, for those unfamiliar with gratuitous and exorbitant kitchen gadgets). A crusty luddite, I have suspicions that the thing might become sentient, or worse, ruin the mindful pleasures that are stirring, sautéing, kneading and rolling. My qualms are paid little attention and it quickly becomes clear that I can’t avoid the Thermomix or, as cheesily nicknamed by Dad, “the thermie’ (See? Sentient).
Running the thing for the first time on a Saturday afternoon, I’m fairly certain that a decision to re-launch Sputnik 1 from Croydon has been given the go-ahead. Within days my father’s relationship with the robot has escalated; a co- dependency has rooted itself in the centre of the household, and he has become wildly over-attached. Early one morning mum and I awaken to hear him breathlessly shout that we must all leave bed to taste-test the three different varieties of raspberry jam he has produced, each a different consistency. Thermomix nadir had to be when I received a text message from dad at 7.30am informing me that he’d made us Big Macs – sauce, buns and chips all included – from scratch.
As savoury fumes wafted unpleasantly up the stairs, Mum and I dutifully trudged down, mildly nauseous, but smiling and accepting his breakfast offering lest there be hurt feelings.
Despite my sneering, I will miss my dad’s childish enthusiasm and excitement for cookery when I return to university. In many ways we are cut from the same cloth, sharing an obsession for food and a strong desire to cook for others. Our final exchange as he drops me off at King’s Cross is one of culinary bonding, me promising to send him photographs of how I organise the new spice-rack in my flat; him promising to send back comparative notes with his own.
It hasn’t all been high-end stuff, however. I’ve enjoyed being re-acquainted with my mum’s West-of-Scotland approach to food. You can take the girl out of Glasgow, I think, as I watch her early one Tuesday morning prepare breakfast: two digestive biscuits sandwiched together with jam. Or, similarly, when I see her meal prep for the work week ahead: buttering slices of bread and fusing them together with a mashed banana, then freezing them to conveniently defrost at a later date. One evening she nostalgically recounts what her grandmother would give her if she were ill as a kid: a knob of butter, dipped in sugar as a throat lozenge or – better yet – whipped raw egg and sugar, with a shot of brandy, “essentially a Zabaglione!” she offers by way of challenge to my gagging face.
Such stories and gallus displays of indifference have always thrilled me – a huge, metaphoric two fingers up to the food police. While dad likes to think of himself as the primary cook of the house, it’s really the meals mum prepared for me as a child that I remember most fondly and, on occasion, re-create for myself as an adult.
The first, a tin of Heinz tomato soup with two slices of bread – only white, please – used as vessels to accommodate copious amounts of butter (a phenomenon which, incidentally, the Danes refer to as Tandsmør, meaning ‘tooth butter’: so much butter that your teeth leave bite marks).
The second, a Glaswegian riff on Poire Belle Hélène: a pile of tinned pears tipped into a bowl finished with a generous topping of squeezy chocolate sauce. C’est délicieux.
This summer, with its bizarre mixture of sunshine and pandemic terrors, has offered an eclectic assortment of food experiences. While I’ll be sad in some ways to say goodbye to its strange freedoms, the Scot in me certainly looks forward to hunkering down and seeing what foodie treats the autumn and winter have in store.
Image Credit: Pxfuel.com