Memory of flavours

Seems like busy times in the H household right now. Pleasantly busy. We’ve sat here most of the day attending to different bits and pieces of business: answering emails, making calls, preparing quotes, paying bills, doing some reading for the job, and so on. In typically Melbourne fashion the weather outside went from bright sunshine to overcast with driving hail, then sunshine again. Once more the rain came, and now, just about G&T time, the sun is out again bright in a blue sky.

For the moment music plays in the background, an eclectic mix, Sufjan Stevens followed by Nina Simone, and somewhere in there Glenn Gould too. There seems things to do, at least things to think about. I look about me. Rigby catches my eye, wags his tail. “Later mate,” I murmur to him. I look beyond him to the house, the house that will soon be somebody else’s, and all the stuff in it, mum’s stuff, the stuff some of which will be handed out to various beneficiiaries, and the rest to be disposed of one way or another. That’ll be my job.

It will be melancholy, but for now I don’t feel it. It’s a job to be done, a job my mind is already ticking over to organise. I see beyond it, to another time, my time, somewhere else.

Still, a little while ago there was poignant pang. Mum has left her recipe books to my (now) evil step-sister. That’s a matter of little concern, but for the recipes that mum had collected over the years and had either pasted or hand copied into a notebook. Growing up I remember mum having two notebooks, the ‘wallpaper books’ we called them because they were clad in a wash and wipe, very garish, wallpaper.

In those books was the food that we had again and again from the time I was a boy until I was an adult. I sat at the kitchen bench in Lower Plenty eating those recipes, and later, in Eltham and Montmorency, in Templestowe, Toorak and Canterbury. Food is a such a resonant element in life, not just for what it provides but what it stirs up. We eat, we share, with family and friends, an experience that is as much about fellowship and community as it is about sustenance. It’s hard then to look upon recipes like this without memories being evoked.

The wallpaper books have long since fallen apart, and the pages from it pasted and taped into newer versions of those books. In the kitchen earlier I looked up at the shelf of recipe books. I’ll have to pack them up for the step-sister I thought. Then I thought, I can’t lose those recipes. From the shelf I picked out the thick notebook mum had copied the recipes into. I browsed through it, recalling recipes from long ago, reminded of mum by her elegant script, so familiar, and occasionally of her personality by the notes she wrote in the margins – ‘this is delicious’ or ‘yum, yum.’ There were recipes from my aunt – it was she who gave mum the wallpaper books – including the famous monkey gland steak recipe. She too is dead.

I found as I read so many favourite recipes that I could hardly think back without getting sentimental – or feeling hungry. I ripped a sheet of paper from a nearby newspaper, and as I went through the book placed a strip in each page there was a recipe I wanted. I would lose mum’s words, her writing, the memories that went directly with that, but at least I could copy out these favourite recipes for posterity – mum’s potato and leek soup say, many bowls of which I enjoyed on cold winter days over many years; or steak and pineapple, such a retro seeming dish now, but delicious; and her vanilla slices, famous for miles about with their passionfruit icing; and so on.

Funny, a Simon and Garfunkel song came on as I looked through the recipes, ‘preserve your memories’ they sang, ‘they’re all that’s left you’.

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