And a warm welcome back to everyone who discovered my previous site, 'English Afternoon Tea"!
The idea for "The World in Your Kitchen" goes back decades, during the times spent researching the programme of courses I offered for my business "English Afternoon Tea; the many hours with students in my own kitchen, teaching about everything linked with that classic and now ultra-fashionable meal, to satisfy what each student had come to find out, and to make sense of the ingredients at the heart of English "teatime".
At times certain ingredients were unknown to learners from other countries, either because they were not products to be found locally, or, for UK students, their origins had been lost in the changing frame of British grocery shopping and perhaps also, the demise of "Domestic Science" lessons?
Explaining that prunes were dried plums, the source of dried dates (which involved drawing a palm tree for a lovely Taiwanese couple) and the various forms of preserved ginger and cherries all return to my immediate memory. However, one which struck hard was the visible disappointment when a young English woman popped a Glacé cherry into her mouth expecting it to be the same as the Maraschino cherry she recalled from childhood when she would be offered the fruit adorning her mother's cocktail glass! This particular student had grown up in working class Liverpool so the exotic-tasting alcoholic cherry belonged to another world, far from the sugar factory where her mother had worked to raise her family; the Babycham cocktail enjoyed in her living room was her mother's hard-earned treat whilst the Maraschino colour and flavour held something bright. The sticky Glacé cherry she grabbed from my tub was simply sickly sweet in comparison and, I suspect, failed to deliver the time travel "shot" to reconnect to her mother all those years before.
As I type these recollections I'm also aware that, from my earliest memory, I naturally and intuitively interpreted the world through food (and drink) and the world made sense through observing everything edible, especially anything sourced from plants. My earliest memories start in Malaysia so the rambutans growing in our garden hold far more than simply being a curious tropical fruit to enjoy when travelling. The tree was there with its fruit and their soft spiky skins, right where I played; oh the joy to see food growing in my space!
Our family breakfast table was bright with papaya and lime juice, my mother was taught how to prepare curry by our wonderful amah and we also experienced the authentic dish when invited to their family weddings in the villages on the edge of the rainforest. Years later my mother explained how the servants wanted to prepare all our food, whilst Maman also was a natural cook, locked into her own needs to provide. One family photo from Christmas1965 shows us all smiling with the traditional Christmas pudding, possibly bought at the NAAFI!
On fish days I hated the prospect of the lethal bones and would cry as Maman perused the fresh fish at Seremban market; moving on to the green-grocery, the kindly market trader picked out a tiny bunch of miniature bananas to cheer me up.
These snippets are a fraction of what sits inside my head, much drawn from our life overseas, but what's also critical for my relationship with food and drink is that, even on days like today, with raging gales, or the coldest days of winter, our old kitchen on the Kentish coast allows me to travel the world. Even basic, everyday ingredients have something to offer as a route out into the world; my brain does it naturally and I feel thoroughly annoyed when reading food labels which state the goods are "Packed in the UK" when they were, in fact, grown thousands of miles away.
In recent years there's been a fashionable emphasis on local produce but the coffee beans forming my essential morning routine are grown in Colombia and Kenya, our breakfast marmalade created using citrus fruit from the Mediterranean combined with sugar from the tropics and even the locally-sourced boiled egg needs tropical black pepper!
In fact our garden isn't well-suited to grow much by way of edibles and even the ancient apple tree struggles with the changing climate and ferocious winds; thankfully I can still gather fresh herbs and the odd wild strawberry when they're not stolen by the squirrels or mice. The hillside is a mat of healthy brambles but the pigeons tend to gorge themselves before I can clamber up the cliff to fight the thorns and bring down a bowl of blackberries!
Aware that my particular childhood offered opportunities which were regarded as "exotic" although it should be noted that military childhood wasn't all fun and games by any means, and convent boarding school was a journey to hell, especially with regard to food and drink and the basic need for a pleasant, or at least positive, eating environment.
At around age seven I had a favourite book of tales "from other lands" which gave me the idea of magic flying carpets taking me away but the dinner plate is far easier to arrange!
Perhaps it was the Paludrine we had to take daily as an anti-malarial which influenced my wish to fly; antimalarial prophylaxis drugs have been connected to strange and powerful dreams including flying and those dreams come back to me all the time. They stopped as soon as we left Malaysia so I have every reason to believe this strange connection with flying. Thankfully my interest in plants and food didn't stop when we moved to the cooler, greyer, cabbage-field Germany and three different homes for Halloween, Christmas and Easter!
Even the simplest meal can bring the world to our table and offer our tastebuds the chance to travel which, for me, is fundamental to my daily emotional well-being. Of course I must add that real geographical travel is my passion and every journey is an opportunity to find out something about ordinary food and drink, what is normal fare and how people shop, cook and fill their plate.
I'm hoping that I can share some of my experiences here
Writing brings me a sense of achievement in between the demands of everyday life and chores which seem to multiply like the Magic Porridge Pot; even the simplest meal can bring the world to our table, offering our tastebuds the chance to travel.
My plan is to get on my magic flying carpet so I hope you'll come for the ride and share the wonder of everything that we could so easily take for granted!