Before we get too embroiled in the serious and sobering stuff of women’s suffrage and gender politics, the theme for our March issue, already underway with our #power4women tweets, I thought I would share some of my food anecdotes. Yes, women were always the food role models at home; thank goodness a trend reversed in my generation by my brother who is the most imaginative and outstandingly creative cook – Daddy’s Disgusting Dinners have ensured his children eat almost anything.
I was an extremely fussy eater as a child and an early tonsillectomy had the reverse effect on me to that of most of my contemporaries. The imposed diet of jelly and ice cream gave me a strong dislike for them which persists. School dinners served out of huge rectangular aluminium containers full of slimy stews and odorous brassicas, followed by the most detestable smell ever of suet pudding with crusty custard, ensured I was to be very picky about any food. For years I maintained an obsession of having to have the different components of my dinner kept well apart from each other on my plate or preferably served separately.
But the food occasion which became a family hallmark, instigated by my mother, was a very labour intensive Wigilia – a Polish Christmas Eve feast. This developed slowly in our childhood and became a full-blown elaborate banquet by the time I was an adult and she had her first grandchildren. All sorts of stories were revealed about the symbolism and meaning through the years: each and every person exchanging blessed special rice paper (or bread) before the meal and making peace and speaking home truths; the courses were to represent all the seasons and all of God’s creation (with the exception of meat because this was a fast (!) before midnight mass); 12 courses to represent the disciples; setting a place for the uninvited guest (and how lucky it would be if one turned up – which in latter years we ‘engineered’ for her), hay under the white tablecloth with white candles and green fronds only and the person who withdrew the longest piece would have the most luck.
Now after her demise some of her grandchildren have revealed that they cannot stand most of the courses such as fermented beetroot soup (baszcz), sauerkraut, fungi dumplings etc and they say they have met Poles who have never ever had a Wigilia quite like that. So I began to wonder whether my mother’s childhood memory had created an imaginary meal far more elaborate and extensive on a special evening when she said animals could speak.
So go on. You too can create a magical, mythical banquet and instigate a family/friends’ food tradition – any occasion will do, but please share it with us it.
I’ve just checked… how could I have doubted her – she was upholding a tradition which the wonderful web authenticates.