The way we were is the way we ate

RARE indeed is the food writer who is not nostalgic by nature and who, however well trained in gastronomic matters, does not regress to childhood when talking about food. It seems to be a vital part of our autobiography - more familiar than sex, more cherished than parents, easier than learning. And eating is a more shameful appetite than most, because the results of over-indulgence are as visible as our neuroses are well-concealed.

It is noticeable that contributors who talk of food in the present tense, and who write in praise of what they or others do, can't hold a candle to those who reminisce about what they shouldn't have eaten, but loved to eat, when they were young.

Joyce Carol Oates writes of the 'secret memoir that is a compilation of the foods you once ate with zest, now banished from your life, denied, or with the passage of time, simply lost'.

She is dead right. We all have such memories and secret guilts; and we continue to indulge them when we can. Ms Oates's litany - and here I quote only the less exuberant part - is probably not dissimilar to one you could concoct for yourself. (Any readers' lists would be gratefully received.)

'Tootsie Rolls and Mallow Cups . . . Hostess Cupcakes . . . pies that fit in the palm of your hand . . . sweet-glazed ham steaks baked with canned pineapple rings . . . cheese omelettes the size of automobile hubcaps . . . fish sticks dipped in catsup . . .'

She goes on and on, and it slowly dawns on us that what she is talking about has little to do with sustenance, but a lot to do with the slaking of appetite which, as we all know, is strongest when we are young. If our food memory is mainly for the sweet, that too is natural. It's a craving in us that is as close to nakedly biological need as one can get.

You will note, too, that a great number of our Most Wanteds were forbidden things, consumed outside the house, almost furtively. They were stolen pleasures. Did the ancient Egyptians put a midnight snack in the grave? No, they put in the stuff of sustenance - not peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

But among the sweets there are also, on most lists, some dishes that our parents produced and served in all their feckless ignorance of gastronomical correctness (GC): Ms Oates's ham and pineapple, a loathsome concoction that is also, in this context, wonderfully delicious and satisfying.

And there is something nice in our understanding of the foods we were served as children being, well, not quite top notch, but still offered with love. For most, I think, remember their parents as not very satisfactory cooks or cooks whom they can better. The children of gastronomes are unlikely to feel quite the same pangs of memory as the progeny of the innocent who cooked from Good Housekeeping.

In the course of childhood we tend to become fixated: naturally, on our complex and discordant relationships with our parents and theirs with each other (see Freud, Sigmund), but also on foods (see Freud, Clement).

It is at that period that we form our likes and dislikes, and so ingrained do they become that, in adulthood, we are unlikely ever to break the taboos of our childhood. The list of what we disliked then and dislike now may not be as long as that of things we love (or loved), but it is infinitely more pungent.

As for the things we liked, they are, naturally enough, improved by the patina of memory: that perfect peach, that cottage pie on a winter's night when one was cold and famished. They were never as good as we think they were, but they too play a role in our endless search for something as good, if not better.

This is, I think, because we never lose our childhood desire to be mothered, or cared for; the easy satisfaction of slaking an appetite is very seductive. We look back on ourselves and think, did I really eat that? Yes, we have to answer; and right away we want to repeat the


No matter how sophisticated and GC we have become, there are some simple things lodged in our memories that cannot be extinguished. They take us back, which is the way we often wish to travel.

In my own case, it was Communion wafers. I had been serving Mass, fasting, and the priest was slow, my hunger great.

Nothing ever tasted better than that handful of sticky, dissolving, unblessed paste. They may be part of someone else's memory too, but as a part of mine, I relish them, and direct that I be buried with a small supply.

Send your lists of childhood favourites to Lyn Russell, Weekend, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
Passing on: George Washington died alert, aware and in his own bed. This is the kind of of death most people would like to have
Life and Style

Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Brendan Rodgers as a manager, writes Paul Scholes
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Arts and Entertainment
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Tyre Technician / Mechanic

    £15000 - £16800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Tyre Technician / Mechanic is...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Receptionist / Warranty Administrator

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion the Largest Independent Motor...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Manager - Holiday Homes - £100,000 OTE

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + £100,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: Birmingham, Derby, L...

    Investigo: Finance Manager - Global Leisure Business

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in their fiel...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game