Brainfood: memories of taste 2

SFP brainfood I

FOOD memories…Slow Food Perth committee member and chef Vincenzo Velletri, as a boy, recalls his father shooting a fox on the family farm in the Roman countryside. His mother skinned and gutted it and pegged it in a stream for a day, then filled it with herbs and roasted ‘reynard’ for the family table. Food memories enable us to conjure tastes, smells and textures perhaps long-forgotten.

Slow Food Perth started gathering members’ and their friends’ food memories as the ingredients of its ‘brainfood’ tunnel at the Mundaring Truffle Festival in August 2008. If you have memories to share, please send us your story using the comment link at the end of this page, or email Slow Food Perth.

Bacon, liver and blancmange Sarah McElwee
Boarding school fare in the sixties owed a lot to the works of Charles Dickens’ tales of the workhouse for its inspiration although asking for more was never an option or, may I say, a consideration. Nutritionally suspect, aesthetically unappealing, lacking in taste, texture and freshness, it is amazing that the kids of the era who consumed it survived into adulthood. Most particularly I recall rancid, flaccid bacon and dull grey liver, the latter, although cooked to extinction, still sporting a variety of tubes and ligaments – the breakfast that awaited us post-communion on Sunday. With regards puddings, a particular limpid, pink blancmange affair comes to mind, bland yet super saccharine, festooned in a custard notable for its lumps and spoon-bending skin.

The butcher’s Trudy Parker
Playing in the sawdust layer on the floor of Trickeys Butcher in Hay Street near Princess Margaret Hospital while Mum bought the meat.

Watermelon Glenn Pattinson
Buying a watermelon from a farmer in Assos in Greece and then eating the whole thing (with a friend) on a beach. Juicy, dripping and delicious.

Gutted soup Martine Rousset
Eels are delicious. Japanese eel restaurants keep them in big barrels of water where they tumble and twist together like a living ball of slimy twiny wool. When you order the chef removes one and in seconds he’s dissected it, head to tail, in one move. No mistakes, these chefs are good. There’s magic in that kitchen. Your order comes out on a beautiful little tray filled with lidded pots. The square one has the barbecued eel on rice – warm and delicious and enriching in winter. There’s a round bowl to the side. As you remove the lid steam gently wafts from the top of the delicate clear mushroom broth you’ve never EVER tasted before and you love it. Then you tell an American guy how great your dinner experience was and he’s taken by surprise. “Mushroom soup? Oh no that’s the eel’s digestive tract with the stomach attached.” You decide not to discuss this further.

Rabbits Pauline Tresise
As children we went every weekend to our farm in Byford. Wrapping grape bunches in brown paper bags, riding the horse to pick the first ripe fruit of the season, gilgie catching – the big fat black leeches, and being allowed to shoot a rabbit for dinner. The conditions of shooting the rabbit meant we had to agree to skin and clean it ready for the pot. The soft silky fur, the pink red colour of the skinned rabbit and the smell of the warm flesh lingers still.

Thin Philippa Baws
Many years ago we had friends round for dinner and I decided to make a Thin French Apple Tart. The apples had to be cut very finely and precisely arranged around the dish – a time consuming task. When the tart was cooked, the apples had shrunk to a thin layer, barely covering the pastry. There was no alternative but to offer it to my friends. George’s comment in his smooth Canadian accent: ‘Boy, that sure is a thin tart!’

The king brown Jamie Kronborg
Hot Sundays always brought out the barbeque chef in my father. Burning weather, freshly-watered cool green lawns and a lake at our childhood homestead also brought out the adventurous among our resident king brown snakes. Unfortunately for one, which happened to slither across the lawn
one hot Sunday, it was barbeque day. My father, with shovel handy, despatched head from body, skinned and gutted it, and it joined the butcher’s sausages on the sizzling hot plate. It curled in just the same way as sausages do. I remember, while trying to suppress some imagined revulsion (at the age of eight), a taste of chicken…

Tomato blood Annie Sullivan
Without doubt the best time I have had so far was tomato bottling, being covered with red splashes of tomato sauce from head to foot and bottling jars to take home for winter.

Mutton fish Trudy Parker
The tasty smell of mutton fish (abalone) as Dad pounded them in a special canvas bag with a mallet to make them tender enough to eat.

Rock tennis Damienne Miller
The story of rock buns: My sister made a special effort to bake just like her Mum while Mum was out. Unfortunately, the rock buns turned out to be literally ROCK buns which her little brother and sisters used as tennis balls to hit against the house wall. They worked very well indeed!

Heaven’s berry Sue Footner
My memory is of eating organic strawberries, straight from the strawberry patch, for breakfast, on a friend’s goat farm. Early morning, sun rising, green hills, surrounded by animals, and the reddest, sweetest, juiciest, strawberries I have ever tasted…it was heaven!

Chopstick lessons Arnold Walters
A positive food memory was the first time I had Chinese food which was a revelation. At the time there were only three Chinese restaurants in London, the Hong Kong in Shaftesbury Avenue, one round the corner in Soho, called Ley Ong or something similar and one called the Good Friends in the East End of London. The latter was for visiting Chinese seamen and they did not provide knives and forks! It was our first lesson with chopsticks.

Bloody lessons Rachel Baws
My most vivid food memory is being in a butcher shop in Gravesend with my grandmother about 30 years ago and being repulsed by the sight and the smell of bloody animal carcasses. I have been a vegetarian ever since.

Roasted goose Baldo Lucaroni
When Gianfranco made a goose pasta sauce, it brought back to me the same unforgettable flavours that were still stuck in my memory from the cooking of Italian peasants some 50 years ago, during the wheat harvest, when there was no machinery and dozens of people were handling the straw, the chaff and collecting grain into heavy hemp bags. It was very dusty, hot and tough conditions. It was during the working breaks that we were served the ‘penne al sugo di oca’, followed by roasted goose with potatoes and rosemary.

Mushrooms Roberta Hills
The fun of the farm-field-search, often in very damp weather, the preparation and then sitting by the open fire with a plate of buttery, fresh-cooked MUSHROOMS AND TOAST !!!!!

Plucked duck Trish Wood
My grandfather would go duck shooting on the first day of the duck shooting season in the south-west of Western Australia. He would return with a sack full, tip them out on the lawn in front of my brother and I and get us to pluck them; a chore I loathed, but I have to say that roast wild duck is one of my very favourite foods.

Fish Freddie Kronborg
Saint Hilda’s boarding school. Fish on Thursday night. Fish on Friday. Twice. Bloody awful. It was better to break bounds and head to Red Rooster (or whatever it was called back then).

Flaming eggs Graham Baws
When I was a junior scout I was assigned cooking duties at my first camp. I had to cook the troupe’s eggs for breakfast. So I broke two dozen eggs into a cold frying pan and tried to fry them over one tiny flame.

Chocolate ‘pudding’ Damienne Miller
A friend, an inexperienced cook, attempted to make a chocolate cake which was still runny when we cut into it. The disappointment was quickly turned into hilarity as we pushed in the middle of the cake and placed fruit in the centre, turning a runny chocolate cake into a fruit flan with instant chocolate sauce Everyone thought it was delicious. My friend and I had to keep eating non-stop with heads down to prevent us from laughing. It was not until we were enjoying coffee that the secret was revealed.

Cake challenge Dorothy Donaghy
My next door neighbour, who did not like cooking, needed to impress her mother-in-law, who was coming round for afternoon tea. Needless to say her mother-in-law was a good cook. My neighbour arrived at my door in a panic as she couldn’t remove the cake from the tin as it had risen so much that it had completely covered the tin! I suggested that she ice her cake, tin and all and this would be for display only. I then baked another cake and decorated it. Mother-in-law was duly impressed.

Just cooked Eunice Slater
I remember my mother starting to cook the vegetables (often cabbage), at 3 o’clock for dad’s dinner. He came home at 6.30!

Timing Jamie Kozadinos
My most vivid memory of childhood was sitting at the table with my Greek father and brother, shoveling the most delicious spaghetti bolognaise into our mouths, as my mother would comment that the plate of food would not disappear between each mouthful.

Greek initiation Pauline Tresise
In the 1960s in Greece, my first entry into the local food, a half sheep’s head on a plate… Well, doesn’t everyone eat brains, tongue and cheeks!

Coffee flaw Graham Baws
My sister was having friends round for coffee. She put burghul in the sugar bowl instead of demerara sugar. Burghul or bulghar is a south-eastern European and Turkish wheat variety.

Manna from heaven Irene Froyland
I remember: Potato cakes that were all crisp and spiky and golden brown, except for the odd specks of black that had fallen on them from the interior of the old wood stove.

Baking scissors Jane Edinger
We used to go around to a local lady’s house to have our haircut – her son was in the same class as me at school. Afterwards we made pancakes and pikelets (or maybe during, as my mother kept the other children entertained whilst someone was having a haircut). To this day pancakes with lemon and sugar are a favourite, transporting me back to that woman’s kitchen.

O! what transports of delight Jamie Kozadinos
As a little boy my Mother would cook Greek fricasse, a dish made from lettuce, lamb and egg and lemon sauce and lots of dill. The aroma of dill still brings back memories of childhood.

Shelling prawns Pam Lincoln
Finding a sandy stretch on the Swan River around South Perth at dusk, my parents and brothers and I would, on a hot summer’s night, unravel the prawning net and haul it up the river and catch a bucket of river prawns. My mum and I had the job of sorting the weeds, blowfish, jellyfish and cobbler!!! from the prawns on the shore, whilst my brothers took it in turn to “do the hard work” of dragging the net opposite my dad. We’d go straight home, boil a large pot of salted water and briefly cook the sweet, succulent crustaceans. We ate these whilst still warm with fluffy white bread, a lashing of butter, a splash of vinegar and pepper. Divine! I was the champion prawn peeler in my family, quickly amassing a great pile of shells whilst the rest of the family looked on in despair at their pint sized pile!

One in the hand Graham Baws
As a child, my mother taught us pretty good table manners, at a time when table manners were an important social grace. Several times she took me, together with her smart friends, to the Hong Kong Chinese restaurant in London’s Shaftesbury Avenue. While they gossiped, I fully consumed a large crispy fried bird’s nest delivered for the table.

Fruit flies Suzanne Little
Peter and I both lived in the hills on properties which were not farms but which had gardens and orchards. (We didn’t know each other then.) We remember having fruit trees and in particular wonderful apricot trees which we hung around as kids waiting for ripe fruit which was often signalled by a few bird pecks. Needless to say a few holes made by a bird’s beak would never put us off.

Silken courtship Suzanne Little
Another memory is of mulberry trees – the black mulberry kind. Peter had one at home and my grandmother had one in the garden of her Cottesloe home. We remember climbing and eating and coming down with purple hands which we cleaned with the pale unripe fruit. A side issue to do with mulberry trees was the way we kept silkworms in shoe boxes under our beds and fed them on mulberry leaves. I don’t know if this still happens.

Wind-roast Trudy Parker
Helping Dad roast coffee beans in a large powdered milk tin, over the barbecue, then winnowing it – in Fiji.

Scouting for bees Jim Williamson
As 12-year-olds on a scout camp we pitched our tents near the beach below Stanwell Park south of Sydney and found that a beekeeper had his bees nearby. We were fascinated to learn from him that honey was one of the few foods that didn’t go bad. It only crystallised and this could be reversed by gentle heat.

Avocado Martine Rousset
My aunty went to a restaurant a long time ago when avocadoes weren’t very well known (can you even imagine that?) and an avocado half with vinaigrette dressing, salt and pepper was a luscious entree and a real special treat. The one she was served wasn’t ripe so she told the waiter. He offered to take it back and cook it some more.

Learning Jane Edinger
When I was young my parents used to hold large dinner parties which I would help prepare – helping mum do some of the cooking, setting the table and helping dad with the drinks. The more elaborate parties would have four tables of four with everyone changing places between each course. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what was actually prepared and eaten, except for Veal Marsala! Mum was pretty adventurous, though, with one dessert made by coating actual ivy leaves with chocolate and then carefully peeling them off. I remember my dad opening and decanting wine to let it breathe. He would let me have a little taste as he checked that it wasn’t corked. I’m sure my parents’ dedication to entertaining their friends in this way definitely contributed to my love of cooking!

Let them eat… Kelcey Ellis
Crepes in a Paris cafe on New Year’s eve. Making our family’s Christmas fruit cake with my mum.

The joys of England Philippa Baws
School dinner memories – fish covered with a strange-smelling, gelatinous, orange-coloured sauce. Lumpy mashed potatoes and lumpy semolina desserts with a dollop of rosehip syrup in the middle.

Vale the stew Maggie Shanklin
When I moved out of the house to an apartment, I shared with a person who had a talent for knowing where to shop for fresh ingredients and who put items together in new and interesting ways. Every day, as his kitchen helper, was an exciting learning experience. The food was simple but simply delicious and a departure from the overcooked stews and steaks and mushy casseroles I ate as a child. I have never looked back.

Christmas cheese Liz Mencel
Fondest food memories for me go back to my childhood and Christmas time. Gourmet food snobs need not read on; this is the stuff that memories are made of and food can ‘date’ just as clothing does! Christmas proceedings would begin with unwrapping presents and a cheese ball with crackers. Mum would mix together all manner of cheeses (cheddar, cream cheese, smoked cheese etc) with yellow pickle, celery and nuts, roll it all into a ball and then roll this in chopped peanuts. We’d dig in with crackers and munch through the unwrapping process. The finale was always a ‘Biscotten Torte’, layers of plain biscuit between cream, almond meal and rum, left for at least 24 hours to soften and integrate, then slathered in whipped cream with generous chocolate flakes on top … mmm!

Out-foxed Jim Williamson
I have strong memories of home-made ice cream and freshly picked strawberries every second night from our big patch of strawberries that I watered and looked after. Fresh sweet corn on the cob was another home grown delight. Every summer school holidays we visited our Queensland grandparents and climbed the mango tree to eat the luscious ripe fruit before the flying foxes got them.

Offal romance Louise Miller
On a trip to rural France many years ago we visited a highly recommended local restaurant (i.e. no-one spoke English, and there was no English menu.) Knowing only a few French words, we randomly selected things from the menu. There are very few foods I don’t like, but one is kidney. I’ve always disliked the pasty texture and strong flavour. Of course the first dish put in front of me was an entire plate of just-cooked kidney. I was too embarrassed not to eat it, so I gave it a go and was so surprised to find that it was delicious! I couldn’t eat the whole plate, but was helped out by my dining companions who thought it was the nicest kidney they had ever tasted (they were lightly pan fried in butter and Pedro Ximenez sherry so they weren’t pasty at all). So, I learnt that food cooked well, with love, is bound to taste exceptional, even if you’ve previously decided it’s something you don’t like.

Mango madness Maggie Edmonds
My strongest childhood food memory is of mangoes. I was born in East Africa and we had six huge mango trees in our very large garden. We also had pineapples, grapefruit, oranges, lemons, pawpaws – I think that is about all the fruit my Mum grew in the 50s in a tropical climate! But MANGOES…those exotic, flavoursome, messy fruit, were my favourite. With six large trees, of different varieties, there were always plenty of mangoes in season for our friends, our workers, the local animals. And MANGOES…are still my favourite fruit – just a small taste leap above the passionfruit we grow commercially on our farm in Gingin! Luckily, we have friends farming mangoes here in Gingin where the best tree-ripened mangoes come from – at the end of February and March each year.

Bread letters Martine Rousset
When I was in year six I had a really bad tummy ache and ended up in hospital with an appendectomy. As I recovered I got chatting with the girl in the next bed – she had the same operation, was a whole year older than me and was so cool. We watched Countdown on the tv in our room – what a luxury! It got to be a bit of a party vibe for a while, only no dancing or much moving at all as both of our lower bellies had been sliced and stitched. And we couldn’t laugh properly but we sang along with Suzie Quattro “she never takes a chance she doesn’t need romance coz she’s …. Rock Hard!” The hospital food was amazing. Cold jellied meat. Tinned soup. Beige chicken casserole. White bread triangles. Dried up hard white bread triangles. Rock hard white bread triangles. Cool! You could write on them with pink texta. The bread was a message to the kitchen. Suzie would have been proud. My aunty came back with a tray laden with the food we grew up with – rice, lentils, curry and ‘redstuff’ (the Mauritians call it rougaille but we found roo-guy too silly to say in public so tomato and onion is redstuff to us). That’s what she realised I needed. Home food. Good, warm, spicy, friendly, lovingly cooked home food. I was nourished by it’s warm embrace from the inside out.

Hot Christmas Val Bannan
My friend made a beautiful Christmas cake with no expense spared with the dried fruit and brandy. Instead of cinnamon she added cayenne pepper

Gilded crunch Trudy Parker
Sally taking a tray of golden delicious apples from her family farm, to keep under her bed at boarding school, because they didn’t look much so other girls wouldn’t steal them, but they were seriously yummy.

Albany oysters Freddie Kronborg
Summer holidays. Albany. One tinny (a boat, that is). Dick Old, Bob Batchelor (my father) – both grown-ups. Terry Old, Michael (my brother) and me. Oyster Harbour. Triangulated points. Kids jump overboard with goggles, flippers and mesh bags. Fill up bags with oysters. Thousands (!) of oysters (thieves). Take back to Emu Point. Light barbeque. Put oysters on barbeque and eat from shell. Grown-ups drink. Except for the time Michael trod on a stingray. It flapped away. He flew into the boat. Oysters were off the menu.

Dead soup Marg Fennesey
Thirty nine years ago I was happy to have my cousin attend our home for lunch. I was keen to impress for two reasons. It was his first meeting with my husband and my first meal presented to him. Unfortunately, I was not accustomed to drinking more than the odd brandy and dry especially in the middle of the day. This particular Sunday I think I was onto my third brandy and dry when my cousin announced how much he was looking forward to lunch. I took the subtle hint and scurried off to the kitchen to find my freshly made asparagus soup had all but disappeared except for some chopped stalks stuck to the bottom. Because of the alcohol, I saw the whole incident as extremely funny, so, boldly walked to the sitting room with pot in hand to display the disaster and announce that the first course was now cancelled.

Not for me Martine Rousset
Sea urchins
crawly spiky black mounds of them –
I saw a pile of them by an Italian harbour and was told they eat them,
I thought they were kidding me.

Years later in Japan I was introduced to them again
they’re popular on sushi – kinda like a little orange tongue lying on a rice cube
I ate one.
Toe jam.
I haven’t worn stinky sneakers since.

Guildford grapes Pam Lincoln
At the height of summer my grandfather would bring us boxes of his freshly-picked table grapes that he’d grown in his 1/4 acre block in Guildford. I can still recall the real flavour of those heritage grapes: muscats, currants, sultanas, walthams and many others who’s names I now forget (it was nearly 40 years ago) – “red globes” and those other tasteless, seedless supermarket variety grapes were unheard of. My brothers and I would literally gorge ourselves on these seasonal highlights, and would then lay about on the prickly kikuyu lawn groaning.

Christmas incentive Trish Wood
My mother is the youngest of nine children in her family. My grandparents were pioneer farmers of the Bridgetown district at a place called Kangaroo Gully. At Christmas all of my cousins – of which there were many – and my aunts and uncles would gather at the old farmhouse in Kangaroo Gully for a hot midday meal under the grapevines. We sat on wooden benches at long wooden tables and there may have been around 40 of us in total. My grandmother always made a huge Christmas pudding that would hang from an overhead vine. Much to the delight of us children, it contained coins, consequently we always had one helping (serve) too many in our efforts to accumulate the most money. My recollection of the ‘pud’, wrapped in calico, was that it was about 60 centimetres in diameter by about 25 centimetres high and it was invariably served with lovely golden yellow custard made from fresh farm eggs and milk from their own cow; known as the ‘house cow’. It’s lovely to have such wonderful childhood memories of family Christmas times.

No chips? Jamie Kronborg
We lived a long way from town when we were kids. Trips there were uncommon (but when they happened we were fully-togged by our mother in what could only be called ‘Sunday best’). So we from time to time experienced the rare treat of fish and chips cooked at one of Hay’s few fabulous Greek cafes. My sister Wendy, the next-one-up from me, clearly remembered these wonderfully battered fried potatoes when my father came home one evening from a fishing trip to the Murrumbidgee with a massive, fresh murray cod. ‘But, Dad,’ she wondered aloud, ‘where are the chips?’

Growing rice Val Bannan
When I was 12 my mother was sick and I had to cook for the family until she was better. One evening I decided to cook rice for dinner but had no idea that it increased in volume once cooked. What a shock (and a mess to clean up) to find rice trailing over the stove and on to the kitchen floor!

Patient nuts Trudy Parker
Growing peanut plants by “planting” nuts on a saucer of cotton-wool and remembering to water them until they were big enough to plant in the garden. Then being patient enough to wait until the plants were ready to be pulled up and the delicious crisp young nuts ready to eat – in Fiji.

Food on the farm Dot Allen
Growing up in the eastern Wheatbelt of Western Australia in the 50s, I now realize how lucky we were, as all we would eat was organic food, with great vegi garden, fruit trees, killed sheep, chooks and turkey for meat. Dad would even grind wheat for porridge.

Father’s concoction Pauline Tresise
My Father’s all in one pot meal when my Mother was sick: an amazing concoction which was often deliciously tasty and memorable, if only for trying to identify the ingredients.

Simple respect Leonie Furber
What impressed me so much as a child was the sense of my mother creating something special for the family dinner table – rather than the foods themselves – we only ever ate simple meals, always from seasonal produce and it was always prepared with love and care by my mother. I learned later she gained her experience about food from both her mother, and more specifically, her mother-in-law, who was a superb cook. I spent many hours watching my mother prepare the meal and stood next to her as the cooking progressed. My father became the star chef, being the parent who cooked for guests following his family tradition and his quest for the achievement of perfection in cooking. So, for me, my memories are stirred by the realisation that my parents instilled in me a deep respect for food, and a profound interest in taste and flavour.

Childhood Natalina Cherubino
There are so many memories in the archives of my mind. I want to share with you a few glimpses of treasured times of my childhood in a little village in the south of Italy. The cheese and ricotta making days with the warm ricotta spread on home-made crusty bread. The tomato sauce days! A beehive of activities where children participated in helping the women squash the tomatoes by hand and filled endless bottles of sauce. Planting seedlings in the warm earth and watching my grandmother pick fresh figs off the tree. She would hand me fat, ripe ones ready to eat with their skin stretched ready to burst and the mouth split open, dripping with juice. La vendegna, or the grape harvest, with the women picking endless cane baskets of the fruit and my grandfather, stomping bare foot in the trough and my grandmother boiling the grape juice on an open fire to make vino cotto. She would give me a taste using her long wooden spoon, the syrup melting in my mouth like nectar. Then there was the ritual of the pig killing with the salami hanging from the kitchen ceiling to dry, next to the oregano, garlic and onions. Washing days were the best!! While the women washed bundles of clothes on the river bank, we children picked wild berries. We ate so many until our tummies were full and with our pricked fingers, our clothes torn and our faces smeared like a red mask, our eyes shone with the elation of freedom and happiness.

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2 thoughts on “Brainfood: memories of taste

  • pauline

    In the 1960s in Greece, my first entry into the local food, a half sheep’s head on a plate, well doesn’t everyone eats brains, tongue and cheeks!

  • Leonie Furber

    What impressed me so much as a child was the sense of my mother creating something special for the family dinner table – rather than the foods themselves – we only ever ate simple meals, always from seasonal produce and it was always prepared with love and care by my mother. I learned later she gained her experience about food from both her mother, and more specifically, her mother-in-law, who was a superb cook. I spent many hours watching my mother prepare the meal and stood next to her as the cooking progressed. My father became the star chef, being the parent who cooked for guests following his family tradition and his quest for the achievement of perfection in cooking. So, for me, my memories are stirred by the realisation that my parents instilled in me a deep respect for food, and a profound interest in taste and flavour.