Tasting home

Tattie scones. Stornoway black pudding. Square slice. Plain bread. Scotch pies. Tablet. Macaroon bars. Irn-Bru. Oh and two dozen Morton’s rolls, too.

Like a dietician or a dentist’s worst nightmare, these were among the contents of our car as we bade farewell to Glasgow last weekend after a frantic week of catching up with family and friends.

It’s not that Sussex doesn’t have shops. Of course it does. It just doesn’t have these Scottish delicacies on the shelves, the very ones guaranteed to assuage any lingering feelings of homesickness.

Irn-Bru is big down here now, thanks to some very entertaining nationwide adverts.

But Irn-Bru in cans is rare (I know it’s nitpicking but it just doesn’t taste the same from a plastic bottle). And so a “slab of Bru” is always high on the Traynor shopping list.

It’s no secret that food is one of the most evocative things we experience in life. Smell, taste, even the very wrapping around the things we eat have a remarkable power to transport us back to specific times and places and even people.

BBC Woman’s Hour played a short interview with the late Maya Angelou last weekend in which the poet and writer talked about her recipe book, Hallelujah! The Welcome Table. She said:

It is all about food but food really is much more than it may appear to be… People all over the world use food, not just as fuel for our bodies which we have to have, but we use it for the most subtle of reasons, the most obvious of reasons.

We use it to flirt. We use it to make good impressions. We use it to apologise. We use it to bring warring sides together. We use it to impress other people. We use it to tell ourselves sometimes ‘I’m alright Jack.’

Maya talked about her grandmother making a special caramel cake just for her, a four-hour labour of love, after an incident involving a teacher. I swear I could almost smell the charring brown sugar and taste a slice of that cake.

Last Friday I popped in to see Sophie, my late mum’s best friend and a proper old school “auntie” – you know the kind, not an actual blood relation but the sort present throughout your childhood who becomes a valued friend in adulthood.

I digress. My point is that when I went into her house, I was overwhelmed by the smell of homemade soup on the go, the aroma instantly evoking vivid memories of similar smells emanating from my mum’s kitchen every weekend (every day, in fact, when we were kids – there’s no better way to fill up six hungry weans than with a big bowl of homemade soup).

Mum continued to make soup twice a week even once we’d all left home and she’d been widowed. Her first words after greeting a visitor would inevitably be “wee bowl of soup?”

As I stood in Sophie’s hall and inhaled the magnificent fragrance of the boiling pot, my mouth actually filled with water and my eyes filled with tears.

Luckily for me, I’m not very far from home – just a Proclaimers’ style 500 miles. I have the chance to get back to Glasgow two or three times a year and so I can indulge all my nostalgic, culinary reminiscences, packing the car with those very physical representations of the memories I carry inside my head all the time.

The potato scones that are an essential part of a Sunday fry-up.

Scotch pies that we ate religiously every Saturday with beans while watching Doctor Who on the box.

Macaroon bars that my school pal Trisha used to recreate using leftover mashed potato and desiccated coconut.

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Well-fired rolls – what your sandwich filling has been waiting for

Plain bread. Truly Scotland’s gift to the world.

Morton’s rolls. Those “tuggy” bread rolls that are robust enough to hold the contents of a breakfast doubler or even tripler without falling apart. The wishy-washy soft baps on offer locally just can’t do the job.

Well-fired rolls. Honestly, is there anything tastier?

And here’s another thing I miss about Glasgow and West Central Scotland’s emporia: where I live, the newsagents don’t sell fresh morning rolls. I know! Extraordinary that there aren’t piles of rolls stacked on top of the ice-cream freezer with plastic or brown paper bags alongside.

Debbie doesn’t have to travel to get her food fix. Instead she recreates the jams, pickles and chutneys her Fens-dwelling Nan used to make and that were the culinary soundtrack of her childhood and youth. Autumn and ripe berries are enough to send her into paroxysms of memory.

Earlier I said that I get “home” regularly. But here is now home, not Glasgow. If I had more entrepreneurial nous, I’d be setting up an import business right now to satisfy the tastebuds of my expat pals and those I’m slowly seducing with Scottish produce.

But in the meantime, when I need a hit of Caledonian cuisine, I send silent thanks for a chest freezer and a piece and square slice available in an instant.

3 thoughts on “Tasting home

  1. Reading this made me quite homesick. Most of the time I don’t mind being a Scot in exile, but being reminded of those great morning rolls, wonderfully greasy Scotch pies, square slice and, best of all, tablet (English fudge is disgusting in comparison) made me long to head north and stock up! Have you read Toast by Nigel Slater? If not, I’d really recommend it. x

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