I grew up the eldest of 4 children, on a farm. Dad and his brother had a growing horticultural and landscaping business. Fresh veg and local meat, eggs , and a weekly visit from the fish van, meant that we enjoyed a very good and varied diet.
That said, we lived on a lane in the country called Sod Hall Lane (over 100 years ago, it lead over the fields to a large house constructed from sods of earth – Sod Hall). My Mum particularly enjoyed making a meal from left overs , or whatever was in the fridge, a skill I really enjoy today, and often said she could write a cook book called Sod ‘ all cookery – how to make a meal from sod all ! (Assuming that ‘sod all’ is a term know world wide , if not, it means virtually nothing, almost nothing)
I remember sitting round the family table at Sunday lunches, at all the family meals we shared together. At family gatherings as we grew up,at birthdays and Christmas, and at family gatherings when I came home from the sea, or from where ever my travels had taken me. There was always a meal ready for me, often in my honour, to celebrate my home coming. It was like the return of the prodigal daughter, preparing the fattened calf. I know that Dad always took great delight in planning and sourcing a good joint of beef, a particularly juicy and tender steak, the first new potatoes, or sweet juicy carrots.
I remember the 4 of us queuing up to be given a spoonful each of the delicious juices from the roast beef, Dad saying it was the best part of the meal. That said, he often declared after every meal, chair pushed back from the table, hands crossed across his belly in satisfied manner.. ‘ That was the best ……. I’ve ever had’.
I remember being given the top slice of the beef, which was my favourite. Or was my favourite taste actually the next day and enjoying cold roast beef, or the bit picked off later in the day when no one was looking ‘ the pinched bit is the best bit’?
Dad had a lifelong affinity and delight and passion with food, with growing it, nurturing it, harvesting it , feeding it to his family and eating it, and talking about it afterwards.
I now understand where my ideas originate about how Food is love, and about Cooking with love, showing someone you love them through cooking for them, offering food as nourishment. It was from Dad.
Growing lettuce, cabbage, cauli, celery, carrots, potatoes, hoeing them, nurturing until ready, he would prepare them for market and rise early to take a wagon load to market, still covered in the morning dew.
I remember the taste of the veg straight from the ground, often just shaking off the peaty black earth before biting in for the most wonderful flavour and crunch, such a privilege.
I remember the smell of tomatoes in the greenhouse, ripe and full – I occasionally still smell that smell on tomatoes and it takes me straight back to the warmth and fragrance of the greenhouse.
I remember Dad beginning to grow peppers and chili peppers in the green house, – being so eager to taste he bit into a chili and it was so hot he ran up the farm yard to the cold water tap and bent under the flowing water letting it cool his mouth, while we laughed hysterically.
I remember photographs – a photo of him with a pig he and a brother kept as young teenagers, the pig was called Aunty Mary, named by his Father, after his mother’s sister. A photo of him leaning on a hoe, weeding the fields of lettuce, maybe aged around 30 , and I remember a photo of him feeding his pigs from his mobile scooter in the last weeks of his life. He was diagnosed with cancer, and lived with it for 6 years, slowly he let go of the reins of the family business , and his 8 pigs, his vegetable plot and the daily food on the table became his sole focus, and I believe often gave him a reason to get up and get dressed and go outside. Even as he lost mobility and strength, he would asked to be pushed down the farmyard, and we eventually managed to source a mobility scooter which gave him independence for a while.
I remember at my 50th birthday party, we had a hogroast in the barn, and although by then Dad was too weak to turn the hog over the fire, I recall the sheer delight he enjoyed watching it cook and enjoying the heavenly mouthwatering aroma. And oh, I remember the taste of that hogroast.
After I moved away, food was our common ground. He would often phone to discuss what he was cooking, or some delicacy he’d found in a new butcher, or that he’d been down the river bank collecting samphire, or been to the fishmonger at the coast and found tiny queenie scallops, or just enjoyed a wonderful breakfast.
We shared recipes and cookery books, read them with the joy of reading a novel, turning the page for the next delight, sharing a passion for Nigel Slater recipes
I remember him basting a joint or a chicken, stirring a stew, caramelising onions, perfecting poached eggs, the joy and pride of his own pork, turning home made sausages to perfection. tasting haggis for the first time, in his last weeks, wanting a last taste of black pudding from a local market.
I remember our last meal .
I didn’t know it was the last meal at the time, but the food on the table that morning was something we had both wanted to try for a long time. Asparagus dipped in soft boiled eggs. We waited until the asparagus was in season locally, and had fresh eggs from the farm along the lane. Dipping the asparagus into the runny golden yolk .the taste was something to truly savour and relish and linger over. We then had homemade bread and marmalade, and coffee.
That was my last weekend with Dad. A week later back at home, I developed viral meningitis, 2 weeks later he chose to leave the family farm for the hospice. I was too unwell to travel, though my daughter visited him and he was sitting up in bed, in red braces, eating icecream. Enjoying his food to the end.
He has left me with a legacy which I hope I am passing on to my 3 daughters, to enjoy and appreciate, and respect, food, and wallow in the togetherness it brings to enjoy a good meal around the family table, or when cooking for friends. Thanks Dad x
If this post brings forth any thoughts on your own food story and you would like to share in the comments below, I’d love to hear.