Earliest Memories of Food

Dec 17, 2011 by

I read a really good blog recently about earliest memories of food, which got me thinking.  I have a notoriously bad memory and am always surprised at one of my sister’s perfect recall of incidences in our childhood.  The fact my father has early onset Alzheimer’s makes me worry slightly about my very poor memory.  However, my mother is always trying new and different methods to improve her memory, varying from re-learning my leaving certificate poetry to doing the Irish Times crossword.  So I started trying to recall food memories while walking the dogs, which is where I do most of my thinking!

My absolute first memory of food was when my mother was in hospital (I think probably having my youngest sister) and my dad, a very poor cook was left in charge.  To this day I can still remember him emptying mince beef into a pot and pouring water over it before very proudly boiling it and serving it up to us.  My mother says she remembers us coming into the hospital telling her that he made us eat it.  She said she was in tears and wanted to come home there and then to rescue us!  Another much nicer memory of his cooking attempts was sausage sandwiches which he used to make for us for school slathered with ketchup.  And also his Welsh Rarebit – well that is what he called it, but it was cheese on toast!  When mum was away anywhere, the only food we would eat from him was said sausage sandwiches and “Welsh Rarebit”.

My other memories seem to always be connected with coming home cold and starving from school.  The smell of a roast chicken, and eve’s pudding (stewed apple topped with sponge) and custard. Big trays of gingerbread and homemade bread with molasses.  Huge pots of beef stew with root vegetables and barley (which we all thought was yuk).   But the classic had to be our family version of Chilli con Carne!!  I have to warn you that this had very little relation to the authentic recipe.  But it was the ingredients we could get at the time that most closely replicated them.  Into mince beef, onions and garlic, were poured a tin of tomatoes, a tin of Heinz beans and wait for it; a tin of spaghetti!! Oh, and a good tablespoon of chilli powder,  all served with brown rice from the health food shop in Dunlaoghaire (which my mother kept in business)! And do you know it was the nicest meal and the one that gives me the warmest memories of my childhood.  It was usually my job to make it so maybe that is why.

My youngest sister was notoriously fussy and hated fish and anything with weeds or twigs in.  Weeds were herbs and twigs were cloves in apple tarts!  My second sister said she loved pink chicken which turned out to be smoked salmon.  My brother used to gag at potatoes and both my children were the same and were very unusual in that neither would eat chips.  My son when he was about 10 came back to me at a horsey event we used to go to practically every weekend and told me in no uncertain terms that he would not eat “peasant food”.  I had offered to buy him a burger and chips from one of those mobile units.  He is now a very good chef and will eat almost everything but still draws the line at “peasant food”!!

So maybe my memory is not so bad after all.  I was always involved in helping to cook and prepare food when I was young so maybe that is why I can remember events connected with food.  My memories of my grandmother are almost all connected to food, my memories of school (which I hated) are all of food which was what made it bearable.  When I went back to study Food Science as a mature student in DIT Kevin Street I could smell the bakery smells coming up everyday from the basement in the college and one day I went down and bought a plait loaf with poppy seeds.  When I tasted it, I was transported back in time to holidays as a small child in Castlebar, Co. Mayo.   The baker had a soft spot for my mother and he used to slip me a bun or a hunk of bread when I was in the shop with my aunt,  The taste of that bread was something I used to think I had imagined but that day in Kevin Street I went back in time to a place called heaven.

 My mother and myself in colour coordinated tops!

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