There are a great many things my mother taught me for which I am thankful. The courage to speak my mind, the commitment to see something through to its end, the ability to be loving and nurturing. While these are all wonderful traits that have shaped the person I am today, one of the greatest gifts she has given me is the joy of cooking.
Those who know me think that this love comes from my father, he does after all spend a lot of his time these days whipping up culinary creations. That both my parents cook is a wonderful thing, but long before my father was in the kitchen it was my mother who was guiding me.
One of the first recipes she taught me to make was a ‘quick quiche’ using Arnott’s Sao biscuits. An onion that was finely chopped, at least four rashers of bacon that were diced, grated cheddar cheese, milk, and several eggs were mixed with 10 crushed biscuits, placed into a greased pie dish lined with baking paper and baked in a preheated oven until golden brown. The simplicity of this dish meant it wasn’t long before I knew all the measurements by heart.
By the time I moved out of home my mother had shared recipes, often ones that had been passed down from her mother and her mother’s mother before, that would allow me to cater for all occasions. I knew how to make pasta and pasta sauce from scratch (simple enough, and yet how many people actually do it), make a mean pumpkin scone, corned beef with winter vegetables, and tiramisu (though it is never as good as hers. Ever!) among other things.
A school exercise book has each recipe handwritten.
Her teaching me how to read a recipe, how to find the time, and not be afraid to ‘try’ has allowed me to not just bring dinner to the table, it has afforded me the ability to share in the delight of food and the power that food has in bringing people together. It has allowed me to create a sense of home and in that home there is an abundance of love.
I have shelves of cookbooks I’ve collected over the years, some of which my mother bought me, and a staple of which is the Nursing Mothers’ Association of Australia Recipes for Busy Mothers. While she was busy attending to other aspects of the household I would be reading and my determination in the kitchen encouraged me to experiment with all types of cuisine. I still smile when I think about how I presented my parents with a stir fry of vegetables and tofu; quite a departure from our Mediterranean roots.
The language of cookbooks is something else. Through simple verbs you are carefully instructed on what to do — beat, chop, dice, knead, whip, fold; and with experience comes creativity, and knowing what you can substitute and when you should not.
I have cooked for comfort — mine and that of others — and for procrastination as much as I have cooked for nourishment. It is nothing for me to whip up a passionfruit tart and dust it with icing sugar to share with my colleagues, and it gives me incredible satisfaction knowing that the recipe I use is one that my mother taught me.
I call my mother every day, sometimes twice or more.
I know there will come a day when my mother is gone, and being sentimental like I am, I won’t be able to eat trifle or bread and butter pudding without thinking of her, or be reminded of how she would stand at the stove stirring figure eights in a pot of pasta sauce to stop it from sticking at the edges whenever I see spaghetti on a restaurant menu.
Other lessons might have fallen on deaf ears, but when she taught me how to cook my mother taught me how to live, and that might just be one of her greatest gifts.