So Today’s assignment from Writing 101:
Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” — or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.
Spaghetti Bolognese! I have memories from even an early age of eating Spaghetti Bolognese.
The sauce cooking in the old, square, stainless steel electric frypan, the big black controller sticking out with the knob on top to adjust the heat. The battered lid that only just fit (and at that, not terribly tightly).
The smells come back so strongly as I sit here writing forty to fifty years after that cooking. First the strong, stringent smell of onions being chopped. Tomatoes being chopped, or canned ones opened, don’t have a smell that lingers through the years. Onions, green capsicum and beef mince searing on the hot frypan, those I remember. The colour of the onion changing as it softens, the capsicum curling with the heat before the pink mince hits the sizzling pan and is quickly broken up by the wooden spoon as the colour changes to dark brown.
Then, after the tomatoes and tomato paste are added, the sound and smell of the simmering sauce. The sudden waft of exotica as herbs are added before the spoon dissolves the aroma into the sauce.
The house in New Lambton Heights had an open plan kitchen and family room divided by a counter top stretching along the north-west side of the house. Can you see the scrawny boy down at the front end, the family room end? He’s deep inside a book, perhaps in a banana lounge or sitting on the red patterned, hand-hooked rug, but even so he can smell and hear the cooking. That’s me, thin and scrawny from the chronic asthma. Probably sick, wheezing a little or recovering from it. Getting me to eat and eat enough was hard, but tonight it’s not going to be much of a problem. One of my favourites, I even loved it as leftovers.
That’s my Mum at the other end, in the kitchen, though even back then in the mid-Sixties Dad was cooking more and more. She’s lean, almost thin, with dark, bobbed hair and in a shirt and slacks. Fashionable, stylish, intelligent.
As I look up from the book and peer toward the kitchen I might not be able to see the frying pan, but I can see the big stainless steel pot starting to steam as it heats up ready for the spaghetti. I’m likely to wander in to the kitchen and ask if I can put the hard, yellow strands, the “ghetti”, into the pot. If I go right back to the first memories of that then I’ll have to use the kitchen step-stool with it’s scuffed and peeling white wooden steps to get up high enough.
Then it’s ready, the now soft strands piled on a yellow Melamine plate and covered in the rich, thick red sauce.
Even the little boy knows how to eat spaghetti by twirling it onto a fork but how can he resist the impulse to put one end of an individual strand and suck it up into his mouth with that strand flicking just as it disappears that splashes and spreads the succulent sauce over cheeks and chin with drips hitting the shirt below. I enjoyed doing it so much that when we had a three or four year old daughter of a friend with us for a short stay (her Mum was producing her younger sister at the time) that I taught her the trick and she managed to spread the red stain even further than me, the bib around her neck not quite large enough to catch the drips.
Ten or more years later with the family in Sydney my Dad was the main cook in the house and Spaghetti Bolognese had progressed into a much more exotic dish with mushrooms, baby corn and a varied range of spices added but that simple, nutritious, tasty meal from the Newcastle kitchen could never be beat.