I can cook because my mother can’t. Really can’t. To her, the kitchen is hostile territory where pans commit scorching hara-kiri, ovens spontaneously combust and meat comes in two different cuts: stringy or tough. So as kids, if my brother and I wanted to eat something vaguely more thrilling than toast, we made it ourselves.
Don’t pity me – it was wonderful. Mum was always engrossed in a book, either reading one or writing one, so she never cared what we did in the kitchen so long as we were QUIET, there was no BLOOD and any flames were intentional. In a childhood of happily anarchic gastronomy, there was no toy cooker for me – the whole kitchen was my playground. I had no idea it was weird for a 10 year old to spend Sunday afternoon boning a duck or icing petits fours. I spent hours pouring over the pages of the Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook, marvelling at the 70s gorgeousness of the ruby-red maraschino cherries and emerald-green angelica which seemed to adorn every perfectly-iced cake. Marguerite Patten was my heroine.
If I loved cookbooks, I loved my dictionary more. In a world of potato waffles, crispy pancakes and fish fingers, quenelles, purées and gratins were strange poetry indeed. When other girls were arguing about Starsky or Hutch, Donny or Jimmy, I was wondering where in the wilds of County Durham I might be able to find truffles or foie gras.
My parents threw lots of parties, the kind where women sat around in floaty dresses and love beads and bearded men played guitars. And there I was, like a mini Margo Leadbetter, passing around the (tinned) tuna pâté and extolling the virtues of my apple charlotte or gingernut log. Any conversations about gender stereotyping probably took place when I was out of earshot in the kitchen, checking the progress of my devils on horseback.
When others rhapsodise about their Mum’s special shepherd’s pie or apple crumble I have nothing to offer but toast toppers or baked beans (with cheese on a fancy day). But I’m not sorry. In the true spirit of 70s self-reliance, I made my own memories. And then I ate them.