When my mother was trying to impress my father’s parents, she decided food was her route in to the warm curves of the family bosom.
She made the best bolognese sauce someone without a drop of Italian blood could muster.
Onions, garlic, beef, tomatoes, courgettes, baked beans, carrots, leeks, sweetcorn, whatever else was in the fridge, plus hundreds of herbs and paprika. Rather than whack it on some pasta, or flop fat, wet dollops of mashed potato on top, she decided to try something different.
Indeed, a marrow. She lay it on a chopping board, sliced a generous inch off the side, scooped out the insides and replaced them with bolognese sauce.
I have attempted this recipe myself, and it must have taken four hours for the marrow to cook through: an absolute beast of a vegetable, it refused to cooperate until it was about ready to slip through the wire rack.
She sat my grandparents down at the table that had brought my parents together. My dad was a carpenter and my mother had several decadent coffee rings on her weighty dining room table.
He french-polished it for her. First date at ‘Kramer Vs Kramer’, yet they built a relationship, which led to marriage, me and everything else.
She poured the wine, and brought through the marrow.
It took up an entire serving trolley. My granddad had served in the Second World War, but gawped at the sight of this verdant striped behemoth. My grandmother was determined not to be overwhelmed. She struggled. It was the seventies.
Light conversation ensued. My dad loved the bolognese, but picked an inopportune moment to discover he didn’t care for marrow. My grandmother pushed the flaccid vegetable case around her plate. My mother wondered what she could whip up for pudding to save the meal from quasi-disaster.
My granddad gently placed his knife and fork together on his plate, and apologised.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to manage any more, I’m afraid,” he said.
My mother was defeated. She glanced at his plate. It was spotless.
My dad was his parents’ only child. To determine if my mother was the right woman for him, my grandmother called her by the wrong name for three months.
My mother’s father returned the kindness by gifting my father a book on advanced chess techniques and mahjong theory for his birthday.
I am the product of stubborn people, who loved each other very much.
Having always been a cook, even in a supervisory capacity, my mother loved food. Before it was discovered that I could cope with very little sleep, she had frozen TV dinner-style meals delivered once a week from a large slogan-embellished van and the somehow even larger man who drove it.
She tried everything on their menu. Then, she sent recipe revisions and further suggestions on a weekly basis. I don’t suppose any of her ideas would have been cost-effective, and people don’t tend to enjoy being told how to run their businesses, so the company didn’t follow her advice.
Quite quickly, my sleep was shortened but having failed to grow for the previous two years, I decided I didn’t really need to sleep. Being among the first in East Devon to have her food shopping delivered, my mother ordered all manner of ingredients and, one by one, taught me to cook them.
This sadly included things I couldn’t bear to look at.
When she decided that we should experiment with liver and bacon, ignoring completely my total distaste for the sight, smell and thought of liver, it sat in the fridge for a good week. A solid week. Sitting in its solid plastic tray, with its heat-suctioned film cover gradually inflating. By the end of the week, with no desire to learn to cook this foulness from the central-ish belly of something now deceased, I grew curious about why the film cover had raised.
Oh, how I wish I had removed the liver from the fridge before I clasped the carving knife. With an audacity hitherto unobserved in me, I stabbed the plastic film and the pungent gaseous vileness which issued forth near knocked me to the floor.
No. I would not learn to cook liver. I would instead train my own to process semi-decent quantities of alcohol to drown the memory of the liver swelling in the fridge.
Clearly, I have yet to drink enough.