I grew up in a house where we always sat down together at the kitchen table for dinner, and to eat lunch at the weekend and pretty much every day for breakfast. The kitchen was very much the centre of our home and Mum usually had something that smelled amazing in the oven or on the hob.
When I left home I figured out pretty quickly that my shaky knowledge of baking a Victoria Sponge was not going to cut it if I wanted to eat as well as I was used to. So I started a scrapbook of recipes – my mum had one, bound in red, textured leather, with her name embossed in gold on the front, filled in well-marshalled order with her neat handwriting – and this was obviously what grown-ups did. Mine is a blank paged, A4 notebook, with an odd picture of string and brown paper and other such things on the front. Inside, taped, stuck with glues or scribbled are recipes that I collected in the first few years that I struck out on my own.
There are tatty scraps of envelope with barely comprehensible instructions on them – Mum reading a recipe for pilau rice down the phone, while the people I was supposed to be feeding sat patiently in my kitchen. There is a piece of note paper with my friend Iona’s recipe for Houmous – there are three different spellings of the dip’s name, but the recipe is bang on. There are a few hangovers from the seventies – Chicken Devine, which involves two different tins of condensed soup, or a Sweet and sour pork recipe from back when it was incredibly daring to make it at home. And then there are the essentials –a flatmate’s chocolate fudge birthday cake which he had to have every year, a carrot cake that never fails and fed 25 young people from Mamelodi in South Africa on their first trip to Uist – almost every recipe has its own story.
And the pages are splattered from messy, chatty, disorganised cooking. Nights in a flat with no telly and too many people living there, and earnest conversations about politics and stupid conversations about cartoons – you know, student stuff. I can chart the arrival of some ingredients in UK supermarkets – pesto features heavily, as does the then exotic sundried tomato. But halloumi and pomegranate molasses don’t get a look in. This book is the start of a life-long passion, fuelled by my family, my friends and their families. I now have over 160 cookbooks (it’s not weird!) at least 10 of which scrapbooks like this one. But it is this original, tatty, paint spattered (vivid purple, what was I thinking?) scrapbook that carries the memories of people and many different dinners with it. And for that reason it is my treasure.