Alright so here’s the deal – I can’t cook. Well I can physically cook, it’s just no ambrosia. My husband can dig out an onion from the crevices of the pantry, an ice-burnt chicken sausage from the wall of the freezer, packet tomato sauce from the last fast food weakness, and somehow create something akin to beef wellington. It’s safe to say the kitchen and I don’t get along. Yet outside of my Ramsay kitchen nightmare, I’m drawn to food. Not to necessarily consume (don’t get me wrong, I love to eat!) or to copy recipes to enhance my culinary confidence (fat chance), but because of the stories that are sealed amongst the tastes, surfaces, aromas and nutrients.
I should be a little more specific. I’m talking about food stuffs that go from someone’s shed or yard, carefully and lovingly tendered for before they are poured, stuffed, smoothed, wrapped or piled into glass jars, crates, hessian and string. Whenever a character begins to form itself in my head and leap onto paper, I tend to wonder what their favourite food is. Plus, watching and learning about home made products creates characters in itself. You think of the older generation, of our mothers’ and nannas’ home recipes, family traditions, different cultures. I see these people who find such joy and solace in creating and growing their own produce and I find myself forming a story in my mind about them. How did they begin, did it get passed down through the generations, was there a climatic event that drove them to it? So many questions. So much mystery and romanticism.
You think of tomato day and you associate it with rapid and fluid speech, bottles clinking, seeds and juice squishing, laughter, arguments, music. An easy target from this scene is a story similar to Looking for Alibrandi. Then I think of a middle aged man, alone in his garden, making enough of a living in a remote place by selling the stock and a market every Sunday. No invoices, receipts, taxes or identification needed – what is he hiding from? This reminds me of Criston Vora living in the Corag Highlands in The Edge of the World.
After reading a few articles in The Smith Journal (I’m a little obsessed with Frankie Press), it got me thinking about certain foods that mean nothing on their own until a second thought is given.
I suppose maple isn’t exactly ultra popular in Australia; perhaps I’m speaking for myself here, but we don’t come across as a pancake and maple syrup for breakfast country. We’re more bacon and eggs and…you know…Weetbix. Well just Google maple and the amount of beautiful images that pop up. The process, the nature, the colours! How can a story not be told!
The above photos are my own from sausage day at my husband’s family farm. OK, so guess the cultural background! All the tools are probably the same age as his grandfather if not older. The process takes all day and then a matter of months if you want to dry the sausages out. Characters can be made from my husband’s family, especially on sausage day. Four brothers. Bam, already there’s a story. They all look ridiculously alike; good looking Italian boys; parents together since they were fourteen; farming, meat and traditions. What could come between them (insert dramatic music here)!!!???
Beer and spirits.
I worked in a wholesale beer company for two years. It was my first full-time job. They imported boutique beers from Europe and at the time were working their way through other countries. Their most popular was Weihenstephan. Well I learnt soooo much in that job to the point it has made me a beer snob. It wasn’t all fascinating – orders, inventory, complaints, customers – but what kept me interested was the history. I got to read about the processes to make these fascinating beers and ciders. The fruit beers are something special to learn about. My creative side almost did a lolly when I read about the process of making Applejack (a spirit made from cider using freeze distillation). I saw the word ‘prohibited’ whilst reading about it and then I was coming up with all sorts of characters in my head. A way of being successful was putting the cider into barrels and burying them deep under the snow for the winter months. How cool is that! My mind goes nuts – snow, illegal, corruption, alcohol, mystery, murder, crescendo.
There is creativity in even the most individual interests. I don’t like cooking, but I find other people practicing horticulture to be fascinating. It’s those stories that once told make them endearing to everyone. Common examples: The Princess and the Frog (it all started with family gumbo); Chocolat (the discovery of refining cocoa beans led to out-of-wedlock nookie and rambling); The Black Tulip (without the story how many people would actually care about nurturing flowers).
Create, read and cook. I’ll just whack the bread in the toaster.