Today, our exchange was food. One of life’s greatest pleasures is the ability to taste. We talked about our favourite foods, and the ones we hated as a child. The most unusual thing we’d ever eaten. Growing food, cooking food, traditions around food. We talked about the lunch they’d just had, and guessed at the ingredients. What they had in their lunchboxes as children. Food from other countries. Allergies, recipies. If we could have bring only one type of food to an island for a year, what would that food be? I brought in some herbs from my herb garden, and passed them around, for people to identify. We talked about the various uses of herbs. I also brought in some ‘unusual’ foods, to see if they recognised them. And of course to taste them: a pomegranate, avocado, kiwi fruit, mango.
Here’s our ‘found’ poem. My contribution is the title. The rest come from their own words:
Twelve women round a table chat and knit
Lunch was cod and mash, with a white leak sauce
rice pudding, cream and jam, or jelly and icecream.
Ten of us in the house, always cooking going on.
Even during the war, there was plenty of the farm.
I would cook anything that came to me.
If they didn’t like it, they could lump it.
We picked food as we needed it:
carrots, peas or parsnips, and of course, potatoes
grew in the open air. And we had apple
trees, gooseberries, blackcurrents.
I was forever making jams and chutneys.
Lunch for school was brown bread and milk in a bottle.
I always hated cabbage, but my mother
reminded me of children starving in Biafra.
What I loved in Poland was pierogi.
They more or less dish up lots of things
and you pick what you feel like eating.
Have you tried that sushi? Looks like a bar
of soap with green stuff around it?
Or a kumquat? Shaped like a baby orange
but it’s vile. My good meal would be
a Sunday roast, and shepherd’s pie on Monday.
We had hives for honey. Growing up
with honey was a wonderful thing.
I still have a hive of bees.
During the war, my mother mashed a parsnip
added flarouring, and called it a banana sandwich.
My island food would be a juicy apple.
I prefer bananas straight out of skins
that are black-spotted, mild and sweet.
I’ve never had a pomegranate. It’s very good.
And the mango’s lovely too, though
I’m not sure about the avocado.
Fish on Fridays and Christmas Eve.
Corned beef was beautiful.
In Holland, the main thing is the vegetables
but here it’s meat. Chicken, beef
or mutton, depending on the family situation.
We had no electricity, kept our food
in a pantry. Had dinner in the daytime
and at six we’d have our tea: turkey,
ham and salads, cole slaw, bread,
boiled eggs. And apple pie for afters.
Fruit cake, of course, at Christmas.
I used to have a lemon tree to drive away
mosquitoes. My mother put chamomile
flowers in hot water to steam her face.
Head over a bowl, towel over her head.
Thyme for stews and soup. Mint in a pot
for tea. If you put them all together
it would almost put you to sleep.
Lemon balm and peppermint,
thyme or oregano, fennel, chives
and rosemary, the one for lamb.
Some herbs are strong. At school
I laughed so much they sent me home.
I still think about the starving children.