Bound by the Apron Strings
A new book from Sue Lawrence invites well-kent Scottish faces to wax nostalgic about their favourite childhood foods. Donald Reid takes a trip down memory lane.
Sue Lawrence clearly loves the warm waft of nostalgia emerging from the kitchen door. In interviewing over 70 prominent Scots including Gordon Brown, Andy Murray and Gordon Ramsay for her new book she has given them a topic few would be reticent about: childhood food memories. This rich vein of memories provides more than insight into the individuals: it’s a common affirmation of Scottish food in the place it was often the best – at home, on holiday, with favourite grannies or aunties or neighbours. And because Lawrence is one of our best recipe writers, a recipe given, or prompted, by the celebrity accompanies each profile. This extract from the entry on Jackie Kay gives a flavour.
The poet and novelist’s memory was the ‘complete unpredictability of a bowl of porridge’ that Jackie Kay remembers as a child, growing up in Bishopbriggs near Glasgow. ‘It could be lumpy, too salty, was always grey and to me was associated with depression. It was eaten a lot at home and I hated it – still do!’
But she also had good memories: the family used to holiday on the Isle of Mull and they all fell in love with Mull Cheddar. They used to eat big chunks of it, as if it were big blocks of tablet. ‘But as well as associating Mull with the lovely cheese, I also remember when I was about four years old, stepping off the boat in Tobermory and some of the locals asking my parents, “Do they have the English?” as my brother and I were obviously the only non-white children they had seen!’
Her parents were both members of the Communist Party and with that, according to Jackie, came many perks: on Saturdays her dad would go to the Party butcher and be given four steaks and four slices of square (beef) sausage for free. If anyone in the Party needed a carpenter or plumber, it would also be easily arranged. When her parents went to Russia to be with fellow Communists, Jackie and her brother were left with family friends, apart from a couple of days when they stayed near Edinburgh.
‘I will never forget the gooseberry pie made by the little old man we were left with. This was a pie out of a fairytale, just divine. It was really juicy and thick and the ﬂavours all burst in the mouth. There was a hole in the middle of it and the syrupy gooseberries oozed out. The old man had a long overgrown path he had to go down to pick the gooseberries from the garden of his wee cottage. I will never forget that pie.’
Jackie learned to do some basic cooking at home but the thing she loved doing most was ‘making a plate’. Her mum would sometimes say ‘Let’s make a plate to cheer ourselves up’. On this plate were beetroot balls, slices of ham, cubes of cheese, pickled onions ‘and a happy yellow pineapple ring’ (as written in her poem ‘Yellow’). She still remembers the strong complementary colours all beautifully laid out for them to enjoy. She also learned to poach smoked haddock in milk and make omelettes.
These days Jackie still likes to cook haggis and also broth and smoked ﬁsh. But two of her mum’s dishes that she loved then and now are rice pudding (which Jackie liked to see emerge from the oven topped with crusty skin, though she never liked to eat it) and apple sponge pudding, made in a square tin.
Taste Ye Back: Great Scots and the Food that Made Them by Sue Lawrence, published by Hachette Scotland, £20. A percentage of the royalties from sales will be going to Children’s Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS).