Recipe for disaster


Francesca Purvis on food, family and failed pavlova. Illustration by Bethany Thompson.

Many of my fondest memories revolve around food. From huge family gatherings where the table strained under plates and plates of colourful food, and everyone ate with abandon and laughed and reminisced and were always too full for pudding but managed to make room anyway – or at university where birthdays would be celebrated with glorious brunches, and Sundays revolved around the kitchen table stacked with homemade pancakes and steaming mugs of coffee, easing us through bleary eyed hangovers as we laughed and cringed our way through the memories of the night before.

Food brings people together- it provides a chance to share a positive experience be it with loved ones or strangers. Sharing food related stories and experiences, be that restaurant recommendations or funny anecdotes, plays an important part of our relationship with food as a social platform. For me, the food memories that stick out are those of mishaps and misadventures.

For instance, my mum tells a story about how her mother (my nana) used to always cut the end off her Sunday. Mum realised she didn’t actually know why she did this, so asked nana why she did it – who replied that actually she didn’t know – her own mother had always done it and so nana, on seeing this over the years just presumed it was the way to cook a roast. When nana then questioned her own mother she replied that the original Pyrex dish she had used for the roast had been too small to fit a whole roast in, so she had always had to chop the end off to make it fit. I love this story – I think it highlights the importance we place on the rituals and traditions of our food, especially when these traditions have been passed down through family members.

I remember when I was about 10, my friend and I decided to make a birthday cake for her wee brother, who had a variety of allergies including all dairy and eggs. Excited to try our hand at experimental baking but lacking in patience, we decided we were more than able to ‘ad lib’ our way to the perfect vegan cake. We began the process, congratulating ourselves on our almond milk addition, our Vitalite butter alternative and our work tracking down the perfect dark chocolate. We were getting so excited about how impressed our parents would be at our culinary talents when one of us mentioned how much we loved to crack eggs, about how it was the best part of baking. “We can do one each!” it was decided. It was only after the cake was in the oven and we began the mammoth task of cleaning up the kitchen, did we realise our error. Poor Robert never did get his allergy free birthday cake.

My friend Ebba told me a very sweet story about a food misunderstanding between her and her dad. “Years ago I asked my lovely Swedish dad for a mince pie and potatoes for dinner, having been inspired by the culinary delight that is mince and tatties during my time in Scotland. I think he must have Googled mince pie, knowing I had just come back from Britain, and later that evening I was presented with a giant, sweet, mincemeat pie complete with roast potatoes and gravy! When I burst out laughing and explained to him what I had meant, he said that he had been slightly confused, but had presumed it was a speciality Edinburgh dish.”

Finally, my mum grew up in a house filled with pets, including a beloved little sausage dog called Shaun. When mum was about 7 she was invited to a friend’s birthday party. She was very excited and my Nana dropped her off in a flurry of taffeta and high spirits. About an hour later, nana got a phone call from the party, to say that my mum was hysterical and hadn’t stopped crying since the party food had been brought out. On the drive home, mum managed to get out between sobs that, “It was absolutely horrific, they served hot dogs! Their little TAILS! In buns! How could they be so cruel!” A bemused

Shaun got a showering of affection that evening, and to this day we have never had hot dogs in the house.

The perfect pavlova does not a good story make. However, the puddle of melted meringue that you were forced to serve at a summer BBQ to expectant guests, is one you won’t forget.

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