I’m not sure when my love of food started but I don’t have to look far to find my influences.
My parents both came from big families. Food was never wasted, meals were made from scratch, and there were no exceptions for fussy eaters. Any momentary lapse in concentration at the dinner table meant your last morsels were usually swiped by a more canny sibling.
Naturally, these principles filtered down from my Mam and Dad to me and my younger brother and sister, as well as an appreciation for food probably helped along by Catholic upbringing where grace was always said before and after meals in the primary school dinner hall, and weekly collections held for the starving children in Africa. I always remember that the pennies were kept in a massive Nescafé jar carried from class to class by the school secretary every Friday.
At home we always had a Sunday dinner, sweetie day was a Friday, when we got older a chippy tea became a weekly treat and on an evening, a pot of tea and a biscuit gave us a break from the homework.
Both my grandmas would think nothing of getting out the mixing bowl and showing us how to bake scones or biscuits to keep us entertained while in their care.
But the highlight of my week was always a Saturday afternoon, when aunts, uncles and cousins would gather together at my Grandma Holliday’s little house.
Sport was always on the television. In the main it would be horse racing, with my grandma shouting for her bet to come up. And when the football results were read out you knew it was almost time for home.
In between those times, the preparations would be made for tea. There was always cake. Chocolate cake, fruit cake, in the summer we would have strawberries and cream sandwiched between puff pastry slices and drizzled with glacé icing. Sometimes there was fruit pie – blackberry or rhubarb, with me and my cousins more than happy just chewing on raw rhubarb dipped in an egg cup full of sugar. There were meringues, deliciously soft and chewy inside, which we would turn upside down and squirt cream from a can on the flat side, as well as huge coconut macaroons, nothing like the dainty colourful macarons which now grace the afternoon tea tables.
The cheese board consisted of a block of orange-coloured cheddar from Walter Wilson and later the Co-op, and there would be bowls of fancy crisps (usually salt and vinegar chip sticks, cheese puffs and prawn cocktail shells), bread smothered in proper butter, as well as two or three types of sandwiches (sausage and onion or egg and tomato were my favourites) or sometimes hot cheese scones, fresh from the oven.
Everything was washed down with steaming cups of tea although there was always pop as well – I remember feeling quite shocked the first time I saw my grandma have a drink of Coke. I must have thought she had tea running through her veins.
I loved the joint effort involved in making the tea and laying it out on the table as much as I loved eating it. Crammed into a little kitchen, fighting for counter space, someone at the sink in charge of pot washing and my grandma always at her oven.
If you visited her in the week, when the house was much quieter, you would still find some home-baked goodies in the raft of tins she kept behind the back door. My sister was a huge fan of ‘ginners’ – massive, thick ginger nut biscuits with just enough heat and a slightly chewy centre.
Sometimes they would be a tiny bit overdone, or the fruit cake might be a little dry – generally when my grandma got distracted by the horse racing. The cry would go up “dash my dogs!” as she realised the time.
And she would tell you not to eat it, and try and find something else to tempt you with.
But to me they always tasted delicious.