When I burrow deep into the recesses of my mind, steering past the Snoop Dogg/Lion lyrics and useless facts about dogs, I can clearly pinpoint my earliest memory. It’s me, sat in my Great Grandad Grovie’s garden, mud slathered on my cheeks as I pop a handful of hard, purple-marbled runner bean seeds into my mouth.
The next, unsurprisingly, is when I’m perched in my highchair, a chicken pox-addled two year old, with Mum patiently spooning a banana yoghurt, (yes, I remember the flavour) into my grizzling chops.
Whether it was in a bowl, on my face, or at the bottom of a pit in the garden (I had a penchant for earthworms), when I recall these fledgling memories, they all seem to be framed by food. Funny that.
Nothing much has changed, and luckily, here at Stranger Collective we’re not shy of a spot of culinary experimentation . Conversation often strays to the intrepid art of dessert dusts, soft-shell crabs or spice alchemy. So, spurred on by some gastronomic concept creation for a prospective project, I decided to spend some time Feeding mind and mouth, by evoking a few food-tethered memories.
Where better to take this foody Day 10, than with the two folk I knew would be serving up victual-based anecdotes by the bucket load. Cue my glorious grandparents Nana Dot and Papa Don. Many an afternoon I’ve spent with them, drinking in stories teeming with colourful characters and mischievous misadventures; a slice of something sweet, simple and delicious on my lap.
As we sip our tea, talk turns to glass-bottled lemonade from the village shop in Heamoor, the familiar green cool box signalling Nana’s famous trifle arriving at Christmas and the currant cake that they will always spend a whole morning preparing to bake, painstakingly removing each and every pip from the ‘seedless currants’ they buy from the shop.
Flavour it seems, like scent, is shackled to memories. The link is powerful and rarely given the credence it deserves. Whenever my thoughts are stirred by the subtleties of taste; a spice that summons a story, a herb that harks back to time and a place, I always think of my favourite part of Michel Proust’s In Search Of Lost Time. The moment when a nibble on a fancy biscuit reignites the narrator’s long forgotten memory;
‘the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.’
Perhaps it has something to do with channelling my inner French hermit, but I honestly believe that every time I taste the rich, sweet flavour of currants, I’m transported back to my grandparents’ living room. I can picture the carpet, the soft feel of the arm rests and Papa Don’s paint splattered trousers.
So today, I interrogate the apple currant cake, their culinary calling card. I want to master this simple treat, so that whenever I fancy recalling that special time, being around two of my most precious people, I can simply whip this memory up in food form.
So, here’s the recipe for you to try for yourselves. See where it takes you…
APPLE CURRANT CAKE
6oz self-raising flour
3oz chopped, peeled apples
4oz currants or sultanas
Cream together sugar and margarine. Beat eggs and add to sugar and margarine.
Fold in flour, apple and currants (if you’re feeling particularly industrious, why not remove each pip by hand). Cook in a 2Ib loaf tin in a moderate oven, around 190 degrees for about 1 hour.