Food Memories

Friday, August 12, 2011

Everyone has memories of the foods that they ate during their childhood – the standout dishes prepared by family members that have disappeared from their diet as they’ve grown up. Well, actually, I’m just assuming that everyone has these memories, because I certainly do. And those memories are shared by various members of my family.

For me, the standout dishes from my childhood were all cooked by my grandmother. My mum’s mum was always the standout cook in our family. She was Greek, although she emigrated to Australia from Egypt; and although she didn’t speak English that well, she spoke volumes through her cooking. Baklava, Rum Baba, Avgolemono Soup, Spanakopita, Dolmades and Galaktoboureko amongst other distinctly Mediterranean fare are the strongest food memories of my childhood. I was never one of those children who refused to eat anything without having tried it – I had an adventurous palate for a kid, and I adored these beautiful Greek foods that were rich in flavour.

Sadly, my Grandmother passed away some years ago, and since then the foods of my childhood have slipped from our diet. Like all the best cooks, most of her recipes were stored only in her mind, and while she was here to cook for us, we never thought to learn these secrets from her.

We tried, sometimes, to help with the cooking. But my grandmother was particular in preparation of her food, and you could easily fail basic food preparation while working with her. I can distinctly remember a time when I was around ten years old, helping her to make baklava. She reluctantly let me take charge of the pastry brush, and watched like a hawk while I brushed the sheets of filo pastry with what I thought were copious amounts of butter.

It wasn’t long before the brush had been removed from my hands so that she could slap on copious amounts more butter as though she’d never heard of cholesterol or calories (which she probably hadn’t); filling the places that in her mind she could see needed more. From then on I stepped aside, letting her work her magic. Once the Baklava was finished, my mother then failed dismally at arranging the baklava on the plate in a satisfactory manner. My mum and I laugh about this now, but I see that same level of particular-ness in myself all the time.

It might seem overly anal, but the results of her cooking spoke for themselves.

It’s been quite a few years since my grandmother passed away, and most of these foods have been just a distant memory for me. Then recently, my mum bought me a Greek cookbook which turned out to be the best cookbook that I have ever owned. I made a few of the recipes, and the flavours therein reminded me so much of my grandmothers cooking that I became inspired. My mum booked us into a Greek cooking class which actually turned out to be run by the same woman who had written the cookbook, and after making some fantastic foods there, I became inspired to try to recreate some of my grandmother’s recipes.

Which brings me to where I’m at now. The first place I had to look was in her battered old cookbook. My mum held on to it after her death, knowing that a lot of her recipes were based around the basic ones in this cookbook.
The problem is that the cookbook is in Greek. And it was written in the 1950’s, so it’s slightly out-dated Greek. Well, at least I think it is. I can’t be sure because I don’t actually speak or read Greek. Which makes the whole idea of using my Grandmother’s cookbook to relive my childhood food memories ever so slightly more difficult.

My first attempt at recreating 'Galaktoboureko'
Luckily for me, it’s the 21st century, so I have many and varied tools at my disposal – most crucially, the ability to switch quickly between a Greek and English keyboard on my iPad, and Google translate.

With these two things, I’ve begun the long and arduous process of reading a book that to me, appears to be nothing but a bunch of squiggly lines.

Despite how slow the going is, it’s not been dull because it’s amazing to see the foreign characters appear on the screen and then miraculously appear on the other side of the screen in English. And it’s also been quite amusing to read the garbled translations.

You can’t help but laugh when you find a chapter in the meat section titled “minds” or a recipe tells you to do things like “Dive your fingers into some water” or “Anoint with butter”.

Or when you mistype some characters and end up with translations like “Boiled Husband Soup”.

Translating the recipes is proving to be a painstaking, but incredibly enjoyable experience. And more than allowing me to rediscover some well-loved foods, I feel as though it’s bringing me a little closer to a grandmother who during her life was always ever so slightly distant to me through the language barrier.


Tyge said...

That was a nice read!

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