Thursday, 14 June 2007

Communal cooking

Last night, I was transported back to my childhood, via an evocative aroma, snaking through my balcony. This was no Madeleine, sending me into a frenzy of recollection, nor was it the sharp vinegary hit of fish and chips pricking my soul with hazy dreamlike memories of seaside holidays past. Rather, the pungent smell was rancid lard, used to fry eggs, which reminded me of my gran, and her habit of clarifying dripping, to make it last all summer long.

In my building, tenants have no secrets. Unless you live on salad (which I do) the neighbours can tell what we are eating. Pizza is the norm here, as are curries.

In one former house, the level of cooking was poor. ‘A’ would put a large pan of cold water on the hob, and place in it some mushrooms, potatoes and peas: this was her veg. Then she’d leave a cheap pie in the oven to dry out completely. She once put the pan on the hob with nothing but water, having forgotten about her veg, which led to her infamy: she had actually burned water.

It’s so hard not to comment on other’s food choices. You mustn’t judge, when poverty decrees some unimaginative but filling meals: we all ate too many baked potatoes. Even so, I had to bite my tongue when I saw that one housemate settling down to a huge plate of overcooked pasta. The sauce? Tinned spaghetti. Even that was better than the anorexic who lived on sardines and crispbread, whilst chanting the calorie content of our food as we ate.

I was mocked by all of the above for my habit of eating properly cooked food, which I bought from the excellent (and cheap) local market. Lovely fish, excellent cheese, but they thought me odd for not eating dairlea and pies. Then one got scurvy, and asked for advice. I suggested she eat some fruit, so she settled down to a meal of tinned cling peaches in heavy syrup. Another flatmate on a health kick ate a ‘salad’ consisting of spam, corned beef, boiled eggs, pate, salami, and some ham, with a lettuce leaf, (presumably to keep her regular).

But one flatmate had created a now legendary recipe that became the stuff of nightmares, a meal which had us all calling our families to tell them we loved them, tearfully putting our affairs in order, and saying our prayers, before alerting the emergency services. Her signature dish was liver curry.

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