I can’t identify the beginning, I am my mother’s daughter. She came up to visit this weekend, in the back of the car was one of her beautiful Emma Bridgewater cake tins full of blueberry muffins. Turning up with boxes full of cakes is not my mother’s style, its mine, but I bake in no small part because of her. At school I would have a piece of homemade cake in my lunchbox everyday, I never thought anything of it, my mum would bake a cake a week, it would typically be one of her trusted cake recipes: coconut and cherry, lemon and banana are the varieties I remember in particular. Homemade cake was simply the normality at home, and so as a child I assumed it was for everybody, during sixth form it took me a full 10 minutes to regain my composure when one of my friends told me that she had never made cake before, I rectified the situation the following week.
I consider there to be 3 important events that define how I cook: when I was little my mother taught me that you don’t need a recipe to make pound cake, in Home Economics lessons at school when we were taught how to make bread, and on a cooking course after my A levels where I first made risotto.
While events define how I cook, the influences on how I think about food are far more widespread: The dinner table at home, which is not complete without fresh white bread and a large bowl of salad, dressed with just oil and vinegar. Food is rarely plated up, but a large plate, bowl, or pan placed in the middle of the table from which everybody can help themselves. My love of fish comes from the Greeks and in part my father who never fails to order mullet if its on the menu, but the honour of intoducing me to the joy of fish must go to a taverna called Kousaros, whose barbequed Tspipora is heaven drizzled with a touch of olive oil and lemon juice. I define Easter as the season of the lamb, and I have no wish to ever remove the sight and smell of whole roast lamb which has branded itself on my memory, and baskets of red eggs, of course. And many other things aside.
Food, whether it be cooking it or eating it defines most of my social interactions at the moment, in fact it has long defined many of my social interactions. This is not stereotypical of a student, forget going out drinking, I’d rather have my friends round for pancakes in the morning (and frequently – though not frequently enough – do). I’ve had many a friendship that has been purely based around either making food or eating it! But its baking that I’m known for, that I’ve developed a reputation for, and I love that, though one of my friends introduced me with the line ‘She’s an amazing baker’ the other day – I’m not sure I wish to be defined by the fact that I love baking. I do use baking as an opening, though (and a closing, come to that). The presence of a homemade cake allows me to invite all and sundry over, or invite myself over to other peoples houses.
Its my flatmates birthday today, I made her a birthday cake last night, of course. Well I thought of course was the appropriate term, but apparently my baking has become so common, that she didn’t even suspect that I was making her a birthday cake. But the cake is what important here, because that is what I want this to be, a record of food, the comments on my cooking that I want to remember, or remember to forget, and maybe some recipes.
This cake was a standard victoria sponge recipe, with about a 1/3 ground almonds in the flour, and half and half demerara and caster sugar, cooked in a 6-inch cake tin, such that it was small and tall – all cakes should always be tall. But what made this cake was a drizzle of a watery caramel – just caster sugar and water, with a little butter melted in, to give it a fudge-like flavour. It needed a greater quantity of drizzle, as I was just experimenting I didn’t make very much. But gooey caramel flavour the drizzle gave to the cake really hit the spot. It wasn’t really a birthday cake at all, it certainly didn’t look like a birthday cake, it was an upstanding, self-important little cake that could have graced a formal, outdoor afternoon tea.