Memory food

I remember my first taste of yoghurt. It was a spoonful of strawberry Ski yoghurt from my mother’s bowl one evening. I had gone to bed at the usual time and later, after a long time trying to sleep I had crept back to the sitting room. We were staying at my maternal grandparents house and we had only recently returned from South Africa. I curled up on the sofa next to Mother. Grandma was in her chair by the fire sipping Guinness, which she hated, but had been ‘prescribed by the doctor to help build her up. After some persuasion from me Mother let me taste a spoonful of the pink yoghurt although she warned, “You won’t like it.”

But I did. I was nearly five years old. That memory brings with it a whole host of other memories: visual, auditory and emotional.

I remember the first time we had spaghetti. My brother wouldn’t eat it as he thought it looked like worms.I can remember my Mother’s frustration and the goody two shoes feeling I had as I ate the worms without a fuss.

I remember eating boiled eggs with my Grandpa and the debate about which way up they should be when topping them. And if one should top them by a quick slice (my Dad’s style) or by careful tapping around with a spoon (Mother).

At my paternal grandparent’s house we often had chips – cooked in a deep fat fryer, and eggs, fried in a frying pan. And afterwards Penguins…. food we didn’t get at home.

I remember a whole host of foods I never even think about giving my own children, such as Heinz tomato soup, which we always had if we were ill, for some odd reason.

But the earliest memory of a specific food comes from South Africa. Freshly roasted salted peanuts, bought out on a tray at a hotel in Durban. I have never in my life tasted any that even halfway matched the flavour of those.

Author: Sarah

No time to lose. No, time to lose. Make time to stand and stare.... Did you see that?

39 thoughts on “Memory food”

  1. Hi Nym: it is odd how we remember food. I kept a diary when I was eight and it consisted of books I had read and breakfast; lunch and supper.

    I have a problem with ice-cream, which I used to love, but I was force-fed it when I had tonsillitis and it took years before I could face it again. Well, thinking back, I may have insisted that it was the only thing I could eat.

  2. Only the best ice cream will do these days, but back in childhood…. anything would do!

  3. “But the earliest memory of a specific food comes from South Africa. Freshly roasted salted peanuts, bought out on a tray at a hotel in Durban. I have never in my life tasted any that even halfway matched the flavour of those.”

    They were called ‘Small Chop’ in West Africa. Every household served them, freshly prepared by the cook. The best ones were those served in Anglo Indian households, they used to add chilli to the mix. Yum, yum

  4. I used to love them Nym. They were also served in bars as well. Just like today, free salted peanuts equals thirst equals more beer sold. πŸ™‚

  5. How very interesting, I can’t remember any food as a child.
    Thinking about that is probably merciful oblivion!
    My mother was the worst cook in the world and my father hated eating and was rarely around anyway.
    mother made grotesque attempts to cook everything into grey rags, quite unidentifiable!
    She couldn’t sew, garden or cook, knitted the odd shapeless sack one was forced to wear.
    She was a total bluestocking, she read and spoke 7 or 8 languages no problem but interpret a crockery book? Not on your life!
    I made all the cakes and puddings, when I was home, from the age of 12-13 or so and my sister did all the sewing for the household, had you relied on the old girl one would have starved in rags!

    I learnt to cook out of self defence! The only thing I appreciate from my mother and father were/are my brains, (preferably not on toast!)
    Interesting as I say, no fond memories of domestic items. The grandparents were all dead by then too.

  6. But I can remember where I had my first yoghurt, Ski hazelnut at Exeter Uni Union building! Where I met my first husband, oh yukk, to both!!!

  7. Love the blog, Pseu. I can’t remember much about food from childhood either, except that it was a vexed issue. Like soft-boiled eggs, for example. I hated eggs, but my mother would cook them, with little regard for time or boiling water so they were always underdone or way overcooked. Then I learned the trick that if there were eggshells in the eggs, my mother would let me spit them out! From then on there were always eggshells in my soft-boiled eggs. My mother had trouble with both cookbook instructions and the clock. She was a good cook though, sort of Γ  la southern, dare I say it?, French.

    Later as a young adult, I learned the perfection of the 3-minute egg. Or was it 4-minute?

    My older brother had a nifty trick of making pancakes that were in the shapes of things. A vastly entertaining activity to watch for younger brothers and sisters. Unlike my mother, he was a model of precision and went on to become a chemical engineer. He still cuts a loaf of bread with the concentration and exactitude of a medical researcher. I heard from his kids that he did the same pancake routine for them, and I guess he is doing it now for his grandchildren.

    Yogurt is something I love but can’t eat because of the tyramine, a formidable migraine trigger.

    Fancy the doctor prescribing Guinness to fatten up your granny. Times have changed, but I dare say there are enclaves of such folk medicine practices still holding strong.

  8. jaime, it is not a folk practise, Guinness is an extremely rich source of iron and frequently still given to the anaemic. The elderly tend to absorb it better from natural food and drink. High potency multivitamins and minerals can be quite brutal on more delicate systems.

  9. Nym,

    I also lived in Berlin when the Blockade started. No fresh food whatsoever! All tinned! I developed fourteen boils on one leg and a few more on the other. All caused by the lack of fresh food! I can remember to this day the doctor lancing them and my screams. Two years earlier, he was in all probability, dealing with serious battle wound causalities and not snotty nosed kids!

  10. christinaosborne :

    jaime, it is not a folk practise, Guinness is an extremely rich source of iron and frequently still given to the anaemic. The elderly tend to absorb it better from natural food and drink. High potency multivitamins and minerals can be quite brutal on more delicate systems.

    I had it after a cancer opp. Bloody good it was too! πŸ™‚

  11. Yes, MY granny drank a guinness! (Sounds like an advert.) Never had a yogurt as a kid – far too posh. Maybe once every few months my father would bring home a whipcream walnut or a penguin; treats indeed. As for other foodie memories, I would never eat custard; never liked any lumpy bits. And I never ate marmalade, not that I never liked it, but I would prefer to have jam. My brother would eat marmalade and I would eat jam. I still remember the shapes and design of the marmalade spoon and jam spoon. (You could never interchange the two – if I’d seen the marmalade spoon in the jam pot I would have imagined the jam contamintated. How things change … these days I am hooked on Seville marmalade and hardly eat jam at all.

  12. Skin on custard, and rice pudding, lovely.
    I always remember my mother gave me jelly when ever I was poorly as a child. Later I found jelly far more exciting and tasty when made with lemonade. Just melt the jelly in the microwave, or a tiny amount of hot water, then top it up with Lemonade; it fizzes on your tongue when you eat it.
    If you want to keep the flavour of other flavours, you can use plain sparkling water.

  13. It would have to be sparkling water for me… lemonade adds another layer of sugar!

  14. Re: the medicinal qualities of Guinness…. she really was prescribed the stuff, and yes it does have iron in it. But she really hated it, so in her case I feel an alternative may have been better. (She was recovering from surgery for stomach cancer)

  15. Pseu: Memories aplenty, the only spaghetti I remember from my early days was the Heinz tinned version totally soft and served on soggy toast, just like their baked beans. Another staple for us as the junior members of a family of fishermen (three out of four grandfathers and many uncles) was fresh whole salmon that would appear on our doorstep during the dark of night, by the time we ate it it had been poached twice and no fish has tasted as good since.

  16. When I was breast feeding (sorry to lower the tone) the hospital actively encouraged us Mums to drink stout to improve the breast milk. Come evening before lights out on the maternity ward, a nurse would come round with a the tea trolley…….”Tea, coffee, Horlicks, Ovaltine or Guinness” she’d ask when she reached your bed. She would look over her glasses disapprovingly if you chose anything but the Guinness. Good old days eh?

  17. Ahh, Val… and it helped you sleep as well!

    The salmon sounds wonderful, LW. Why poached twice: once in the killing and once in the cooking?

  18. Has anyone read this:
    Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger, Nigel Slater
    Pages: 256, Edition: Reprint, Paperback, Gotham Books

    An excellent memoir using food as the trigger for memories.

  19. I still *love* Heinz tomato soup, Pseu! My first memory of it is hot out of a thermos flask, tasting slightly funny on chilly picnics with mum, dad and my little brother.

    The thing I remember having as a kid which I’ve never given my own kids is Ideal Milk. One of my grans always used to serve us canned fruit cocktail covered with Ideal milk on a Sunday tea time.

    Breast feeding is hardly lowering the tone, Val. Breast is BEST! πŸ™‚

  20. Yes, breast is BEST!

    An aunt of mine used to serve tinned milk and cream at Christmas on tinned fruit. I sort of felt my mother’s disapproval….
    but I quite liked it!

    Conny Onny sandwiches. Anyone have those?

  21. Food was still on rationing when I was a child, my father used to tell me how I’d love bananas and pineapple… I was so disappointed when they finally arrived in the shops. For years I preferred powdered egg to the ‘real’ thing.

    Heinz tomato soup – yummy! The trouble is it’s been replaced by some horrible acidy stuff. I get really fed up with manufacturers saying: “We have improved the taste of your favourite food” – “No you haven’t!”

  22. Did you know Heinz were going to stop producing Salad Creme but public opinion swayed them?!

  23. No Pseu, I admit I don’t buy it so I wouldn’t know.

    What really annoys me here is that there are really only two main food outlets, Woolworths and Coles, both have gone into producing their own brands and are busily removing any other brands off the shelves. We have to go hunting in ‘speciality’ shops to find things like Roses marmalade. I mean, just how exotic is that!

  24. Never heard of Conny Onny sandwiches, Pseu. Anything to do with corned beef? Yes the disapproval thing chimes. Tinned fruit and Ideal Milk was the lazy option. This was the gran who didn’t cook (and when she did it was the kind of stuff that was really, really difficult to swallow).

    The other gran was an instinctive cook and usually had lemon meringue or apple or blackberry pie and custard. No comparison with Ideal Milk! πŸ™‚

  25. Janh: For shame, Conny Onny (condensed milk) lovely on your Weetabix in the morning with full cream milk, instant energy sugar fix. Conny Onny sandwiches rank right up there with butter and HP sauce on white bread, nothing healthy for us in those days.

  26. Boadicea: Rose’s lime marmalade, haven’t seen it in the shops for ages, disappeared here together with Ribena (Blackcurrant cordial) which was made in the Forest of Dean at one time, outside Coleford I think, mixes well with rum.

  27. LW: I didn’t know that condensed milk was called Conny Onny. Neat on cornflakes, milk and raspberries – a breakfast to die for – now, unfortunately confined to memory, or I probably would die for!!

    Sugar sandwiches, bread and dripping lavishly sprinkled with salt… it’s amazing we all survived! I feel rather sorry for today’s children whose idea of ‘unhealthy food’ is MacDonalds (ugh!) and crisps and who’ve never had the joy of the really bad stuff… πŸ™‚

    We can get Roses lime marmalade, and the ordinary stuff – but the thick cut is not so easy.

  28. Akersahlly one of my favourite sandwiches was sliced apple with grated chocolate. A speciality of my father’s.

  29. Boa. Sugar sarnies – with margarine, mind, and bread and dripping mmmmm. Can’t get dripping for love nor money these days – except in Polish shops, ‘smolets!’

    We are of an age, Ma’am. My favourite ‘comfort foods’ are all linked back to those early days, three-day stew with suet dumplings, ‘fry-quicks,’ (dollops of thick batter fried in, (preferably,) bacon fat … as you say, and yet we survived, including the thick fug of tobacco smoke everywhere.

  30. You can keep the stew, Bravo. The only time I had that was from my grandmother. It took me a long time to eat anything that was dished up in a sauce or similar – too many nasty surprises with lumps of fat and gristle …

    All that one gets out of bacon now is water… yes, we survived and I don’t think the number of children with allergies was as high.

  31. One nice thing I found about living in Serbia, and now Russia, is that the bacon is of the old-fashioned type with no white residue in the pan after you cook it. You also get other old-fashioned foodstuffs that seem to have disappeared from the shops in the more affluent West, fish and meat pastes rather than poufy pates. I was given some honey the other day – a litre bottle of it – by a friend returning from Bashkorfostan, (she is actually a Tartar.) It is a mono-floral honey from Linden trees and is the most delicate-tasting honey I have ever had.

    Bad memory food includes the boiled bacon my Great-Aunt Emily used to serve every time we visited her in Gordon Road, Peckham. All fat, great white glistening lumps of it with maybe a shy little sliver of meat peeking around one edge. Since this was not long after the War, the rule was still ‘eat what you’re given.’ Purgatory on a plate. And’ National Health’ concentrated orange juice. Horrible, thick, concentrated, sugary brown-orange stuff – you youngsters who have always been able to walk into your local supermarket or convenience store and picj up a carton of fresh orange juice have no idea what you, happily, missed.

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