On Food

For some people, the smell which makes them feel hungry, secure, at home, is scones baking, or Irish Stew, or marmalade.  For me, comfort smells of garlic.  

My grandmother was a brilliant cook.  Yes, I know everyone else's was too - either that, or legendarily terrible.  If the former, however, I'll see your grandmother's cooking and I'll raise you: 

cold sour cherry soup 

hot bean-and-sausage soup

chicken paprika for 6, with leftovers

spinach with garlic

carrots with dill

stuffed peppers for tomorrow

körözött - cream cheese with paprika and caraway seeds

a Nescafe jar of apple puree

- all cooked on a Saturday afternoon at our house, after she'd done a full morning's work, gone shopping and driven 60 miles to Oxford, well into her eighties; she was heroic, as grandmothers so often are.

I would love to say that I learned to make little dumplings, to stuff cabbage, at her knee, but I was reading the Beano and didn't pay attention.  However, every time I put garlic in a pan, I breathe in the scent of it; now, at last, the kitchen smells right. 

So, when I wrote Almost English, a novel partly about growing up with elderly foreign relatives, I was obliged (phew) to write extensively about the food.  Some of the books I used were my grandmother's:

They featured terrifying photographs of carp and offal:


and it is, admittedly, difficult to imagine their modern application: 'I know, tonight we'll have Robber's Meat' (ingredients: pork, veal, steak, goose-liver, bacon, onion, potatoes, salt, flour, lard, pinch of ground (NB) black pepper). But the photographs reminded me of my grandparents' flat, their friends, their world, which was the point, and the books themselves were beautiful. 

Luckily, my extensive knowledge of Hungarian food-words meant that I was not entirely at sea.  I know the word for potato - krumpli, and also how to heat it - microhulam, i.e. microwave.  What more could one possibly need?

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