Saturday, May 21, 2016

Food for Thought

If only I would be hungry for foods I once longed for : for the wholesomeness I remembered, for the pleasantness of a meal long stuck in my brain, now all just memories, more imagination than reality. These days most things I eat taste bland, not tasty : just salty, sweet, or vinegary. Once, I lived to eat ; now, I eat to remain alive.

Thinking back to my father's mother, Wee Anne, a Scot, relocated from Glasgow, Scotland to Yonkers, NY, then to Houck Lane near Harmonyville, Chester County. It's been some sixty-five years since I last tasted her treacle scones, made with liberal amounts of molasses in the batter and then spread over the baked bun, with loving care. Treacle scones and fresh brewed tea were staples of Sunday evenings together : grandchildren, parents, and grandparents.

During my teen and preteen years I remember Sunday mornings because of a distinctive smell. Maybe once a month, Dad would urge Mom to make Kippered Herrings. These dried fish were put up in distinctive cans, sort of oval and low, from Great Britain/Scotland, packed in oil by the Cross and Blackwell brand, I think. Cooking was quite different, though ! The odd shaped, low height can was placed in a pan with an inch or so of water just to the top of the can and the water was brought to a boil. When the fish in oil inside the can was thought fully heated the can was removed from the pan and opened. Wow, what a smell, distinctive and lingering, once smelt, never forgotten. Eating was eventful but, not something you'd want to do on a daily basis, since it stuck so indelible in smell and taste to my memory.

To counter the herring was a desert I really enjoyed, Plum Pudding. Again, put up in a distinctive can by the same label from England/Scotland, Cross&Blackwell, I believe. In a tapered can was a dark concoction of, I guess, plums, raisins, and cake like batter laced with an array of spices. Again the container was immersed in a very hot water bath for heating up its contents before opening the can. Upon opening, the conical desert was center plated for cutting. Certainly the smell was distinctive and pungent, the taste, earthy and hardy. One other thing stood out, which were the accompanying sauces : one was a white sauce, basically a vanilla sauce, that countered the pudding's earthiness. The other, a lemon based heavy sauce, which lingers with me even to today.

I've written over the years about "haggis" and the Robert Burns' birthday dinners complete with haggis, cock a leaky soup, boiled tatters, and a wee dram of Highland elixir. Seems, it's tough to breed out of offspring the tug of smells and tastes found in cooking styles
common to the homeland. Eventually we all become homogenized, sadly.

Ronald C. Downie

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