I come from a family where we cooked. My mother, a doctor, cooked every day from scratch. Vegetables were prepared, meat casseroled, sauces made, stock bones boiled, cakes baked. She bought locally, she used seasonal vegetables (often grown at home) and knew what to do with left-overs. We made our own bread, chutneys, marmalade. What I learnt from her, in easy familiarity in a family kitchen, I find is fashionable today.
For years, my cooking was more functional than fun. With children to feed, and working fulltime, I still did as she did and cooked a meal every day from scratch. I still do. But now, with a bit more time on my hands, I am cooking more thoughtfully, enjoying it more and becoming more experimental. Now my pleasure is no longer purely in the end result and feeding my family – who have always loved food and never been picky over vegetables or difficult to please – but now there’s something more.
When making a cake, I cream the butter and sugar by hand, marvelling at the alchemy that transforms these two simple ingredients into a creamy, whitened base to which I gently add the beaten eggs, emulsifying the fat and whisking in the life, before adding the flour and placing it in the oven for its final transformation.
Now I watch TV cooks in the way I once watched my mother. Seeing Nigel Slater transform black bananas into a cake, I was soon in the kitchen creating a concoction of ground roast hazelnuts, chunks of dark chocolate, along with those black bananas, and the result was a spectacularly delicious take on my usual, rather perfunctory banana loaf.
I have my mother’s old, 1950 Penguin copy of Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food (with original ‘decorations’ by John Minton), which makes wonderful reading, alongside my ancient Delia Smith and more contemporary Nigella Lawson, lurking amongst other cookbook treasures.
But it is the slow, methodical putting together of ingredients that pleases me now. Taking the time to measure, weigh, sift, whisk, beat, tear, chunk or chop ingredients, meditating almost on the process as step by step I create the small daily miracle that could be a jar of marmalade, a loaf of bread, a Moroccan stew, an orange and lavender cake – or a freshly boiled egg with hot buttered toast. The alchemy that is creating and cooking food is a wonderful way to concentrate the mind.