Memories are triggered by different senses: Smell (olfactory memories), sound (echoic memories), sight (iconic memories) and touch (haptic memories). For me, without wishing to plagiarise Proust and his beloved madeleine, there seem little doubt that my memories are triggered by food (perhaps known as gluttonous memories).
By far the most vivid recollection of my first visit to the East Coast of the US when I was seven is not, delightful though they were, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty or The Guggenheim, but a generous portion of sublimely tangy lemon meringue pie – the first I’d ever come across – in a drugstore in Manhattan for breakfast one morning. Clams on the beach in Westport, Connecticut come a close second.
My frequent visits to Scotland as a child were punctuated by fish so fresh it crumbled the second it glimpsed a fork. Crucially, it was always served with a side order of pure, bracing, iodised air. School food was obviously a low point in my gastronomic narrative; the less said the better, but I will just point out that I was properly traumatised by spam fritters at a very early age, and the words ‘Angel Delight’ still set off a Pavlovian gag reflex. I think the better you eat at home, the more potential for grievous bodily harm the food you eat – or try your hardest not to eat – at school presents. This was certainly true in my case.
The highlight of my trip to the Italian Riviera in the late 80s was not the picturesque, colourful and much revered Porto Fino, but a plate of the most exquisite home-made pasta stuffed with walnut paste and dripping with gorgonzola sauce served to me in a simple family-run restaurant in the backcountry. I could easily have eaten several helpings and it’s just as well I wasn’t given the chance, because that wouldn’t have made for one of my finer, more elegant moments…
My memories from the two years I spent in the US in the early 90s? Wilhelm’s dark chocolate and raspberry cheesecake and the 6cm thick chargrilled steaks at The Hyde Park Grill. Do I remember dancing at my wedding? No I’m not sure I do, although I suspect I didn’t as my husband was sporting several broken ribs and a fractured sternum, having being thrown off my engagement ring (a Lusitano stallion). There’s a sentence that’s probably never been written before. I do remember the guinea fowl in apricot sauce though, and believe me, I certainly wasn’t the sort of delicate, blushing bride who had lost her appetite to nerves. We honeymooned in Burgundy which is famous for its many Michelin starred restaurants.
Randomly, the most perfect, simple green salad with walnuts after a day on the ski slopes in the Pyrenees about five years ago left an indelible mark. Usually after skiing, you’d think that a rich and satisfying fondue or raclette would be called for. But no; I have never, before or since, experienced such a rush from eating what was essentially a plate of rabbit food.
I suspect Léo’s childhood food memories will feature carrots and broccoli quite heavily because they are just about the only vegetables that don’t motivate a lengthy speech on nausea-inducing unpalatability. I try to avoid serving him other vegetables unless I have my earplugs to hand.
Ingredients (serves 4)
2 tablespoons groundnut oil
1 red onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 mushroom, peeled and sliced
1 broccoli (I used romanesco), cut into florets
4 chicken breasts, cut into strips
3 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons soya sauce
1 tablespoon honey
100ml chicken stock
1 teaspoon fresh or ground ginger
1 teaspoon chilli powder (optional)
Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Handful of crushed peanuts to garnish
Brown the onion and garlic in a wok, adding the other vegetables and chicken pieces gradually. Cook for a few minutes more before adding the peanut butter, soya sauce, honey, stock and seasoning. Stir fry over a medium heat until the chicken is cooked through and the carrots and broccoli are tender. Serve with noodles, rice or quinoa, garnishing with the crushed peanuts.