Friday, 3 April 2015

Tradition and Rituals: Baking for Love

I'm not Catholic, Protestant or particularly religious; I never really got over the feeling of being horribly duped, when, as a child, I joined the Silver Sword Club expecting to wear big hats with feathers and swashbuckle. Instead, we were lined up, sat on the floor and read to from the Bible by a shifty old man who smelled of moth balls.

I only went the once. Religion it seemed, wasn't for me.

Yet every Good Friday, I find myself cooking and eating fish. Tradition it seems, is important, even if the underlying reason for compliance no longer applies. Nowhere is tradition more important than the rituals of food.

I bake Simnel Cake, rich and oozy with marzipan; serve fish, crispy skinned and reclining on a bed of cumin and garlic scented chickpeas and onions, studded with tiny tomatoes & fresh Chermoula;  make Hot Cross Buns with plump vine fruits and dainty crosses; Peanut Butter Cookies that are sweet, salty, crisp and crumbly and eggs of every type; poached, hard boiled, decorated, chocolate as well as in neat, crusty bread sandwiches.

Is it the impact of a traditional childhood, a world that has now vanished; is it a need to cling to some outdated rules that somehow still instill order in our disordered lives?

Perhaps; each dish I recreate evokes strong memories of family, events, rituals and traditions. 

It makes me feel closer to my parents and children, recreating the symbolism of those huge family events; the expectation of chocolate, the joy of everyone around a table, elbowing each other for the best roast potato, the huge number of cushions needed to ensure that even the smallest are able to sit up and see over their plate to join in. It reaffirms that what matters are family, friends and shared enjoyment.

Recreating traditional activities, baking old family favourites, maintaining those links from the past helps draw the threads of days and people who are gone but never forgotten. A cake mixed in my mums old Mason and Cash bowl tastes better and is more satisfying, than one mixed in an easy clean glass one. Baking by hand, with a wooden spoon and a flour sifter, more 'real' than one in a mixer.

The large wooden table, stained with the activities of now grown children and their friends from playdough, plasticine, homework, kitchen chemistry and food spills, evokes pure Victorian sentiment. No matter how I would have flapped and shrieked at the time, that table is a map of my childrens lives and is irreplaceable.

These 'slow times' in our lives enable our emotional lungs to refill before the new term starts and enable us to mark the passing seasons in ways other than exam prep and predicted grades.

Traditions matter; they are the cultural signposts that guide our lives and whilst it may not be 'a religion', at certain times of the year, my kitchen becomes a place where we gather, remember and share, with thanks.

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