My earliest food memory is being perched on an Irish kitchen table watching my great grandmother make fudge. My granny was an exceptional woman: beautiful, kind and funny. She was also the best chef. During the day, she filled the grumbling bellies of local children at the elementary school as Head Dinner Lady. In her own time, she cooked for us.
And not just for us. Granny cooked for every family gathering; weddings, christenings and funerals, however distant the relative. I think she was a good cook because it was her greatest pleasure in life to hear people ask for seconds. This had a lot to do with my grandfather, to whom she was absolutely devoted. Like me, he was greedy and always had room for more when it came to food. In her later life, she found great delight in being able to afford small luxuries too. Her time as a rationed war bride had left her with an insatiable appetite for previously unattainable items and there was no limit to her experimenting.
Everything that came out of her small, homely kitchen was delicious. My childhood memories are filled with the scent of warm pies straight out of the oven, mounds of colcannon potatoes smothered in gravy, and giant, perfectly shaped loaves of bread cooling on ancient wire wracks by the window ledge. Tea time at her cottage became a thoroughfare; friends, neighbours and relatives always seemed to 'drop by' just as her selection of cold meats, baked goods and steaming pots of tea hit the table. When she made social calls, her handbag would always bulge with biscuit tins to be gifted.
I inherited many things from Granny. Not only am I the spitting image of her 26 year old self but I have a penchant for second hand treasures and am loathe to leave the house without high heels and lipstick. Alas, her most lasting legacy - food - is something that seemingly passed me by.
A year ago, I moved to the USA with my new husband. Far from the domestic bliss I'd previously imagined, I made many anguished phone calls to Ireland. 'Granny, I burned the pie pastry' or 'Granny, these bloody eggs just won't BOIL'. I was a hopeless new bride with the kitchen skills of an elephant yet she was always there, ever patient, with the advice I needed.
When she passed away six months ago, at the grand old age of 87, I was understandably devastated. Even from a great distance, I always took comfort in knowing what Granny was up to in the coastal cottage of my childhood. At 7am, she'd be pottering in the kitchen with a cup of tea and a slice of toast planning for the day ahead. At 11am, I knew she'd be playing bridge with the neighbours over a still-warm wedge of fruit cake and coffee. It was as near to being home as I could get.
This week, the mailman rapped on the door of the three bedroom Floridian bungalow I share with my husband James. He'd placed a large, ominous looking brown box on the front porch and was asking me to sign for it. Airmail. Dragging it into the house, I unwrapped the outer layer to find a letter from my mother.
Lilly, I wanted to send you some of Granny's things - little mementos. I know you'll make use of them. Love, Mum
Overjoyed, I took great care in unwrapping the neat little stacks of domestic journals that once belonged to young, newlywed Granny. Delving deeper into the box, I uncovered hundreds upon hundreds of recipe cards too, each one containing her most beloved, tried and tested creations. Armed with these precious possessions, I decided to start a blog - this blog in fact - in order to embark on my own newlywed culinary journey; working my way through her recipes and memories.
Now tell me because I'd love to know - what is your first food memory?