4 out of 5 stars
Like many people, some of my strongest memories are about some of the foods that I used to enjoy when growing up. Inevitable they are the sweetest and least healthy ones, the penny chews, blackjacks, sherbet dib dabs, Marathons lemon bon-bons, my mum’s Yorkshire puddings and salty chips by the seaside. Just w whiff of one of these can take me right back.
Nigel Slater is another of those who looks back on the foods of their childhood with nostalgia and a very fond eye. He loved helping his mother to cook and was growing in proficiency in the kitchen helping her when she was taken by cancer when he was nine. He was distraught, as was his father and they took a long time recovering emotionally. His father was a successful businessman, who saw that Slaters’ interests were not going to make a man of him, and the cold and distant relationship that they had, grew further apart.
It was not helped by the appearance on the scene of Mrs Potter, a housekeeper. He had been employed by his father, to do things around the house. She wasn’t a bad cook, but slowly Slater came to realise that she was there for more than the cooking and the cleaning. She became the wedge that drove his and his father further apart again. She didn’t like most of what Slater was doing, but she did have moments of kindness and warmth.
He does not judge the way they treated him, knowing with hindsight that these things are often easier to understand through the prism of time. But that difficult relationship formed his character and drove him to do the things that he really wanted to do, which was cook.
I have read a lot of his food writing, but even though I have had this for ages, it is the first time that I have picked it up. It is a memoir that made me laugh fairly often and occasionally wince. Losing his mother when he did was devastating, it was the biggest contributing factor to the dislike, and almost hatred of his father and his controlling ways. It is a very open account too, it is all in here, the wanks and the walnut whips, that sit alongside some very emotional moments, like when he opens his later mother’s wardrobe and all he can smell is her. Might not be for everyone, but I really liked it.