The Australian author Glenda Millard is our Guest Blogger today. Glenda’s new series, The Kingdom of Silk, is a huge bestseller down under. Sadly, Glenda won’t be coming to the UK just yet. The good news is she’s doing a blog tour instead.
Welcome to GHB Glenda.
Can Food Comfort the Soul?
Yes, I believe it can. However, for me it’s not simply the taste of a particular food, but the association with a person or place linked to that food. It’s more to do with the memories that a particular food invokes which brings comfort.
Many of the books I write are about families, and often food finds its way into them (the books not the families!) without my even noticing. I think that’s because preparing, sharing and eating food was, and still is, an important part of my own family life. I write about things that matter to me.
In my book, ‘Layla, Queen of Hearts,’ you’ll find a chapter where the Silk family are having breakfast. They’re eating toast, eggs and pancakes and drinking hot chocolate. Nothing special, you might think. But they’re eating outdoors, the eggs have small knitted hats on them to keep them warm and they’re served in bird’s nests. The toast is made from bread that’s just been home-baked and all the children make their own drinks using lumps of broken chocolate and hot milk. Saturday breakfasts are a tradition in the Silk family, but it’s Layla’s first experience of such a breakfast. It is almost midday by the time the meal is over but no-one minds. Ben, the father of the Silk family, comments, ‘…making memories can’t be hurried.’. When the Silk children grow up, leave home, travel to faraway lands, perhaps they will be comforted by memories of those breakfasts.
Recently I was talking to the illustrator, Stephen Michael King, who drew the wonderful pictures for ‘The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk’ and other books in the Kingdom of Silk series. We were talking about people we loved who have passed away and the ways we keep the memories of these people present in our lives.
Since Stephen lost someone dear to him, he says he buys a particular type of biscuit that person enjoyed and shares them with his family. In November last year, my husband’s mother, our children’s Nan, died. And I told Stephen, that at Christmas time I made the treats Nan liked to make for special occasions. As we ate, my family talked about Nan and her favourite foods. We laughed and cried a little, too, because she wasn’t with us, but afterwards it felt good because we were keeping precious memories alive.
Neither Stephen nor I are particularly fond of the foods we shared, it was simply the association with people we loved that helped comfort us.
So I began to think about other foods that comfort me and the people linked to those foods.
When I was a little girl, my dad used to save all the hard, end pieces of cheese and when he had enough, he’d open the little door of the wood stove and my sister and I were given a long-handled toasting fork each and were allowed to toast the cheese over the coals. The trick was to toast it until it bubbled and browned, but to take it out before it became too melted and dropped into the fire! Simple fare, but powerful memories. Now Dad is gone, but when I think of this occasional Sunday night ritual, I know he loved me and I am comforted.
Another comfort factor for me is cooking from a recipe that someone has handwritten especially for me. When I became engaged to the man I later married, his cousin filled a whole exercise book with her favourite recipes! 38 years later, I still have it and use it. Every Christmas I make cousin Pat’s boiled pineapple fruitcake to give to a friend of the family. I also have many recipes that belonged to my mother who is now in a nursing home. The ones I love best are the handwritten ones, but even in purchased books, Mum has written little notes about ingredients she’s changed or time or temperature differences. Mum has dementia now. She can’t remember how to cook. But I have her recipes and I remember.
And then there’s the thing about food that someone else prepares for you. It has little to do with how elaborate or how simple the food is, it just tastes better knowing the love and effort that went into it. In ‘The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk’, Amber has to save up her paper-round money to buy the special ingredients for the cake she makes for Saffron who is going into hospital in a far away city. Several years ago, when my daughter was still a university student, and a very poor one, she filled a large jar with Melting Moment biscuits she had made, knowing how much I love them. It was one of the nicest birthday gifts I’ve ever received.
Preparing food is also something which can bring comfort. A dear friend, who lives a plane ride away from me, loves to cook and whenever we visit, we share the cooking and the eating. So body and soul are fed when we are together.
My husband and I also cook together. While our four children all lived at home we used to bake sourdough bread once a fortnight in our wood-fired oven in the back yard. We made many loaves, gave some away and froze the rest until we needed it. It took all day and was hard work – lots of kneading – but it was so satisfying to give away something we had made using nothing more than flour, water, salt and our hands.
In summary, I think that any food prepared and eaten, or given away with love is absolutely capable of comforting the soul.
What lovely memories. Thanks for stopping by to share them with us Glenda. Good luck with the rest of your blog tour.