Epicure, gourmet, gastronome or just a food-obsessed home cook and (possibly) wannabe chef (but not crazy-ass enough to ever do it!).
I think that pretty much sums me up. Many of my waking hours are spent thinking about food and it’s fair to say I often dream of culinary adventures too. Whether it’s just for my own personal chow-down or the planning of a menu for a more elaborate affair that might involve a romantic mid-week dinner or a weekend feast for family and friends. It’s not only the nosh that makes my soul sing, it’s more about the initial idea, the pile of cookbooks, the planning, the shopping for ingredients and the most important mise en place (that’s posh French for “putting in place”) that really gets my creative culinary juices flowing.
Where did it all begin?
Well, look no further than the gorgeous lady in the floral frock taking a break with a cuppa in the spud-row.
There’s no doubt my mum Ruth is the “foodie” I looked up to most, although she would never have referred to herself as “one who entertained” and often down-played her ability in the kitchen. She was a farmer’s wife, a home cook on a daily mission to feed her large family with whatever she had available at the time. Little did she know, she was teaching me the most wonderful ways in which food can bring people together to show love, acceptance and gratitude.
My earliest memories of food come from her small farm kitchen, tacked on to the back of our old villa where she seemed to produce a continuous conveyer-belt of deliciousness for myself, five older siblings, a hungry dairy-farmer hubby and anyone else who happened to miraculously appear at meal times – and this was not a rare occurrence!
Most vividly I recall my three brothers (fondly known as “those Andrews boys who can really put it away”) lined up for breakfast, starting their day with half a dozen weet-bix, milk straight from the vat with that creamy top layer and stewed apple or rhubarb. This was only the brekky-entrée, next came door-stop toast, baked beans, any leftover spuds, fried eggs and sometimes bacon, washed down with a decent cuppa – I don’t recall ever smelling coffee in mums kitchen, just fond memories of a large teapot adorned with a brightly colored, hand-knitted “cosy”, like the one you can see in the photo.
As the “baby of the family” (a pleasant surprise, my dad used to say), I remember sitting there in awe of my siblings, wishing I was old enough to be going with them to do whatever it was that needed such a gargantuan morning nosh. Alas, because I was born 9 years after my next sibling Jenny, I was often left crying into mums’ apron as I was “too little” to tag along. However, there were plenty of advantages to being “baby” and I was never denied the many spoils of my place in the family line-up.
Due to my mums’ kitchen prowess, I was described as a “bonnie lass” (a term which later caused a little teenage angst) as I was quite capable of “putting way” my fair share of farm fodder and have licked many a baking bowl while helping mum fill the tins. Let’s just say, I was a rather well-rounded kid who loved her food (not much has changed really but thankfully I also discovered how much I love exercise and making healthy food choices to balance the treats). Anyway, I digress…
When mum wasn’t helping dad with calving, feeding out, moving stock or general farm life, she would never be far from the kitchen, harvesting bountiful crops from her abundant vege patch or the large orchard. There was always more than enough to preserve or share and I think the thing that I admired most about mum was her spontaneous invitations to any newcomers at church to come out to the farm for Sunday lunch. Somehow, unplanned, she managed to throw together a sumptuous spread, not only for our large brood but often for another family, or two!
I also have a very clear picture in my mind of the rows of Agee jars stowed away high in the make-shift pantry, filled with anything from stewed plums, pears, peaches and apples to tomato soup and chutneys. One of my all-time favorite memories was hearing mum up before the birds, making sweet short pastry from scratch and rolling the perfect thickness with a glass milk bottle for her famous apple shortcake. Down would come the largest jar of stewed apples, the entire contents emptied into that shell of buttery-goodness and baked to perfection. I can still smell it, taste it and feel the texture of that delightful sweet crust and no matter how many guests we had for lunch I somehow managed to always get my favorite piece – the corner of course – more pastry!
Life was wonderfully simple on the farm and mum and dad worked so well as a team, raising us all with a genuine respect for others, a kindness toward animals, a sense of rural hospitality and a waste-not-want-not attitude to food and other precious resources.
The meals, banter, tears and laughter shared with friends and family around our farm table are forever etched in my memory and if there’s one thing I can do to honor my dear mum, it’s to keep on cooking and showing love, acceptance and gratitude through food.
So, as I flick open the cookbook to the next page of our cover-to-cover cooking project for 2019 (My Kitchen Marathon), I’m already thinking about who we might invite over for dinner to share the goodness and love.