The Scone That Changed My Life
My Mum can’t cook.
Or rather she can but doesn’t, to the relief of anyone who ever tried to eat something she cooked, and the local fire brigade.
This is not exaggeration. The last time Mum cooked, 25 years ago, hoping to impress her new son-in-law with steak, I arrived to find smoke ballooning across the road and my brother heading out to buy a roast chook. My childhood food was charred lamb chops, boiled vegetables, and vegemite toast - the charring, boiling and toasting mostly done by me.
And then when I was six years old I met a scone.
It was at a tea shop half way up Mt Cootha, and topped with jam and cream. Only one, eaten as slowly as I could, each crumb cherished on the tongue.
It changed my life.
I began to think about food, not just necessary vitamins, proteins and minerals on the hoof. I also watch how people eat, and why.
Tonight I ate asparagus, snapped off between the radishes and red leafed mustard in the garden; an almost local organic Gouda style cheese; parsley and coriander salad (the plants are going to seed, and growing faster than the chooks or I can eat). Bryan (my husband) also dined on beef cheeks, simmered over three days, thick with the memory of all the veg it was cooked with. Their remnants strained out and given to the chooks, leaving only their scent.
From which you could deduce we are a pretentious twits (“Basil and I are totally self-sufficient in oregano!”), if we ate like this for the effect on our friends or even our own self-image. It’s just the way I’ve eaten most of my life, initially from poverty - not choice - then found I liked it. Bryan just likes food.
Yes, there is food in all of my books. Lots of it. I like food. I also like the way it speaks.
Want to understand the late Victorian era? Read the first chapter of The Forsythe Saga, where the family dines on saddle of mutton, chosen for its conservative solidity. Charlotte Bronte knew her food, too: starving Jane Eyre trying to swallow burnt porridge in Lowood charity school; the curates expecting cake for their tea in Shirley. Wind in the Willows would be a weeper without its picnics. The Magic Pudding was written by a man who believed in overabundance, including food.
Food is an index to who we are, and where, and when.
Food for thought.
P.S. I still eat scones, almost always with jam and cream.
P.P.S. Mum does cook once a year: her Christmas pudding. How someone who can’t assemble a salad sandwich can perfect a recipe that takes 32 ingredients, a night’s marinating, an hour’s mixing and a dozen hours of boiling, storing and re-boiling over a six week period is one of the mysteries of the universe.