We all have a close relationship with food and its preparation as it plays such a significant and enjoyable part in our life – food triggers many associated memories in childhood when we develop our likes and dislikes for certain types of cuisine.
Our senses of taste, smell, sight, and sound and sometimes the touch of food would arouse memories of meals from the past. Food is the link between shopping for the ingredients and preparing the meal, which could take many hours to prepare or a quick meal at the end of the day.
One important meal I have many reminiscence talks with residents about is the family Sunday roast, traditional in many parts of the world. I recall talking to one lady who was quite an accomplished cook who always made time to prepare the Sunday roast and made it a special family occasion, inviting her sisters and their family to come together around the table for lunch.
Everyone had a task that day, from peeling potatoes, making the gravy, laying the table to shining the best silver; the roast was the responsibility of Rose*, knowing exactly how long it took to cook and how many times to baste the meat.
Rose would often bake the family birthday cakes, co-designing the cake for the person associated with their interest at the time, either a dog or a cat, fishing, golf or whatever the design. Rose could create a work of art that was appreciated by all who shared in the birthday celebration. The cakes did not end with birthdays; there was Simnel cake at Easter, fruit cake, stollen and chocolate logs at Christmas. Traditional baking was one of her specialities, adaptable to whatever the recipe required.
Then there are the mixing bowls that most generations have had at one stage. The sturdy porcelain mixing bowl with a beige exterior and white interior, “if only the bowl could talk about the cakes they had made over the generations”. Not forgetting the smell of cakes baking in the oven and the anticipation of the baked product coming out, then onto the table for tea, to the taste and flavour we all recall with sweet memories.
Rose would say, “In those days, there were no TV cooks except Fanny Craddock or Julia Child” to guide you through menus and cooking methods, so recipes were handed down from generation to generation often written on a small notebook or scrap of paper to be discovered in the back of an old cookery book. It would be a case of what our mothers or grandmothers taught us would be adopted and the occasional cookery book to add guidance, such as Mrs Beeton’s books or Agnes Marshall’s.
Rose tells me her palate and love of food have dwindled as she has aged, although one thing that cannot escape her is the memories of food from the past as she recalls the taste and smell of favourites she has baked over the years.
By linking this form of reminiscence, older people can share ideas and recipes from their past and rekindle the experiences of once-loved and sometimes forgotten recipes. A group activity can lift spirits and enhance a sense of well-being amongst people with a common interest in food, especially when accompanied by pictures of the ingredients.
Rose referred to her school days and how privileged she felt to be allowed to eat school dinners when many of her peers came with jam sandwiches and sometimes with nothing at all. Although the quality, as she retorts, was never very high. Memories of lumpy potatoes and lumpy custard were always on the menu.
During her school days, her true adventures with food began with her cookery teacher Mrs Henderson who had lived in many countries and experienced diverse cultural food that inspired Rose by sharing those experiences with her students. Rose knew she would one day become a professional cook, eager to learn all she could to increase her culinary skills.
Her dedication and hard work were recognised at the end of the school year when she received an award for her high standard and contribution to cooking.
Rose would say her favourite room in her house was the kitchen; not only was it the heart of her home, but it was also where she put her culinary skills to work most of all, the kitchen was her meeting place for family and friends. It was a warm cosy place to be, especially in the harsh cold winters of northern England. The haven of warmth was filled with tempting smells from the oven, with anticipation for the sampling cakes or baked goods when they arrived freshly cooked.
We can all recall our association with food and connecting the memories that can only bring joy and inspiration to our senses in renewed pleasure.
Always with intrepid anticipation of the next gastronomical delicacy which would feed the soul and become another treasured memory.
*Fictitious name to protect privacy