The comfort of home-cooking and friends
We all love food that tells a story writes Beth Cooper Howell in this week's Woman on Top column
Food is a multi-layered symbol of what is both wrong with the world, and right with it.
It thrusts into conversation and survival, and threads itself into the tapestry of society and its creatures, great and small.
When there is enough of it on the table, it transforms into an allegory of identity – who we are, when we serve it, and why we want less, or more, of it.
We all must eat. And I love food that tells a story, as all good food should.
My parents-in-law once came to visit from up-country.
They are easy-going people who enjoy simple, comfort meals – things I want to be able to whip up nonchalantly at a moment’s notice but can’t as I made the assumption years ago that I can’t really cook and so, the label stuck.
Luckily, we are beasts of compensation, and I believe that we subconsciously attract friends who fill the gaps: an arty-farty type is likely to have an obsessive-compulsive BFF, while someone like me has never not had at least one mate who can cook not only well, but brilliantly.
And thus my friend Brad, who happens to be a professional chef, put supper on my table most nights – leaving me only with side bits and accessories to do.
And it was this group effort – this coming together of all the pieces which make up that most simple of things, a mid-week meal – that led me to fall in love with food, properly.
Not the pleasure rush of sugar or appreciation of farm-fresh chicken but the sudden understanding that within every dish, is its story.
We were having beef and ale pot pie one night and I flapped through a few recipes to find a vegetable accompaniment – something easy that I couldn’t burn, or congeal.
Incredibly, several years after she’d given it to me, three house moves later and appearing now, while her daughter was staying with me, there it was: Granny Mary’s carrots.
There was a '90s movie – can’t recall the name – in which a female chef literally pours emotion into her food, transferring to those who eat it, whatever feeling she’s mixed into the dish.
I’m not sure how far science will walk behind that theory, but I’ll tell you this: I never enjoyed a carrot as much as I did that night.
Granny Mary was a practical and brilliant person who planned ahead and always had a stocked freezer.
When first I met her, she’d brought two Tupperwares of frozen creamed spinach and the famous carrots to add to family lunch. She filled one of my gaps right there and so we became firm friends.
A week later, as promised, she wrote me a letter, enclosing recipes for both the spinach and carrots.
A few years after that, she died, and I miss her so. But that night, at the very least, I could cook her carrots.
The ones I used were from my friend Saskia’s farm, where she’s growing toxin-free food the way nature intended.
The double whammy of local-is-lekker carrots and Granny Mary’s recipe had me on a high; it may be a small thing, but it isn’t really, is it?