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
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
peopleBenjamin Netanyahu trolled by group promoting two-state solution
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
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

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    Day In a Page

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style