Food and Drink: Memories are made of bread and dripping

IN the years I have been writing this column, since the first week of the Independent's life, my correspondence has been either a delight or an anxiety, and rarely anything in between. The pleasures come in two kinds. Of these, the pleasantest are the occasional letters I receive (and respond to) from my 'regulars'. This is like correspondence from the days when people still knew how to write letters. A second, and useful, sort are those who respond with information and scholarship. On the negative side, what I like least is lobby mail: the letters from the animal lobby, for instance, bemoaning the cruelty of this or that. I tried to engage in debate with such people, but gave up. For them one is the missionary in the pot: it is unwise to seek to convert those who are themselves in extremis mentally.

Inviting reader response on so nostalgic a subject as food in childhood was to invite a flood of delicious reminiscence, and to prove the point I sought to make - that food is often a matter of early fixation. The beautiful part of the response has been the tone of rapture, of deep satisfaction, that such early memories bring. I said in that original column that many of those fixations are for things that are 'bad' for us. The list provided by Maureen Antoniades makes the point for me, for although in her list there are sensibly good things to eat, there are also confections that would make a modern nutritionist gasp:

'Hot, thin, Monk & Glass custard, Yorkshire pudding with golden syrup, Nestle's milk, spotted dick and custard, Horlicks tablets that stuck to the tongue.' As she points out: 'The main memory is of the very first time I tried each of the above.' In Proustian fashion, she summons up the hour, the smell, the circumstance. As does Jacqueline Manlay (I think that is the correct spelling) from Wokingham: 'Pink sponge and pink custard (school dinner), Heinz tomato soup (tucked up in bed), crab (tiny tin of Princes) sandwich (as a treat when convalescing).' Ms Antoniades was eating her pleasures in the immediate post-war period - from whose food disasters many of us had to be cured by instant gluttony - and Ms Manlay was eating hers during illness. The idea of food as solace, as consolation for deprivation, is evident.

Wendy Rogers from Derby describes 'unfolding a package of waxy Mothers Pride bread wrapping paper to find four neat square sandwiches of white bread and lard crusty with salt . . . intended as my school elevenses'. But today, guilt has caught her, except for 'large crusty Yorkshire puddings so full of jam that when you bite into them great dollops ooze out all over'.

Sometimes memories are very specific, less gluttonous, less immediately sating. Christine Muckie (my reading again) writes from Belvedere, in Kent, about 'celery covered in soot . . . I would go home with my mouth black from the soot'. Like her bacon bone stew, one detects that old familiar taste component: char, soot, salt. This is surely atavism in our genetic memory. As with John Farmer, who remembers 'after the two-mile walk home from evening service' putting 'pieces of home-baked bread on the toasting fork', then spreading them with the 'beef dripping from dinner'.

Angela Waller of Cambridge, however, introduces another note, that of a specific cuisine nostalgia, in this case her mother's, who died when Angela was 11. Among her favourites was 'drip bread, dipped in the juices of the meat slow-roasting in the oven' and 'scraping the bowl' of cake-makings. She spent two years as an anorexic after her mother's death, for while 'there was plenty of food around, it was all pre-processed, different because it had not been created with care and affection'. In the close to her letter, she asks whether tastes can be inherited (her son, like his father, dislikes cherries). The answer is clearly yes: we have an inherited disposition to certain foods; therefore inherited aversions are just as likely. My sainted 95-year-old mother consumed about a pint of liquid a day; I, too, have a minimal fluid intake (and my doctor says wine is not, in that sense, a liquid).

Not surprisingly, a lot of sweets occurred in readers' lists - no cravings are more acute than those two culinary standbys: the sweet and the salt. And, as many readers remark, some of the best things (including Virol]) were stolen, illicit, forbidden fruits: viz Doreen Pearce of Twyford, who not only enjoyed bread and dripping and hugely sweet puddings, but also had a 'secret passion' for 'madeira cake spread thickly with butter' but, as she adds, 'I only achieved this by stealth'. Strong flavours, too, make their mark, as in Antony Allott's 'HP Sauce with corned beef'.

What is remarkable is the consistency of the English culinary memory. It is made of simple, often sweet, things. There should be room for such indulgences even in our guilt-ridden age. There is little we can be absolutely assured of remembering, and all of them are primordial experiences: our first sense of death, our first sexual encounter, our first foods. We mature towards our own deaths; we master the sexual urge; but to our dying day the foods of childhood govern the appetite by which we continue to survive. It does not matter that those childhood appetites were bad for our teeth or our figures; it matters that they were the essence of our mental and spiritual health.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
News
McKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksChristmas comes early for wizard fans
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
filmsOculus Rift offers breathtakingly realistic simulation of zero gravity
News
news
News
peopleCampaign 'to help protect young people across the world'
Life and Style
tech

News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
i100
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker