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.

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.

Big fat biscuit letdown

What is it about sweets and biscuits that they can evoke the most potent of childhood memories? And yet one person’s vivid recollection is another person’s “eh nup, can’t recall that at all”!
Last week I was thrilled to discover a packet of biscuits called Romany Creams in a local shop (bizarrely this was a butcher’s shop that caters for the Caribbean community). Gypsy Creams were a staple of the biscuit box when I was a kid because a) they were cheap and b) us kids were enthralled by any chocolate biccy (custard creams and tea biscuits were the usual alternatives). I don’t recall when Gypsy Creams disappeared from the supermarket shelves but I’m certain I haven’t seen one in at least two decades. Seems others have been searching for them, too.
So despite the hefty £2.66 price tag (and what should have been the red flag warning of transfat free), I snapped up the Romany Creams. Reader, they were rank. They smelled like Gypsy Creams – what a tease – but tasted dry and flavour-free. I was gutted. The aroma was so tantalising, transporting me back to the early 70s in an instant, but leaving me flat when the taste failed to ignite my tastebuds.
I started reminiscing on Facebook about another great sweet treat of my childhood, Bunty Sponges, and was met with blank reactions by just about everyone. Anyway, I remember them! They were like Farley’s Rusks, only not for babies, and my mum used to break them up to use as the base for her trifles.
So in the spirit of remembering great food (and other things) that you no longer get, here’s my (current) top 5 things I’d like brought back, if only for a wee while.

1. Texan Bars A great big chewy, chocolate covered treat, Texan Bars were a superb sweet to buy cos they were so chewy, they lasted ages. The advert was cracking too. They also gave rise to one of the greatest comedy moments of my entire life, involving an Austin Allegro, my sweet-toothed dad, my wee sis and a Milky Way.
2. Top of the Pops BBC Four is keeping the Pops alive with its Friday night re-runs but come on, we need this show back and we need it now. Fair enough, I’m now at the age where I’d do that annoying running commentary so beloved of our parents: “That’s just whining, not singing.” “Has she lost her hairbrush?” “Is that a boy or a girl?” But who cares?! Give me TOTP on a Thursday night at half 7 and I’ll be a happy bunny.
3. Pacers A spearmint chew that was a mint version of Opal Fruits (and don’t get me started on renaming stuff!). White with three green stripes, they were a refreshing and cheap treat.
4. Robinson Crusoe during the summer holidays Everyone under the age of 50 will instantly know this theme tune. An absolute staple of telly viewing during school holidays (in the days when telly used to start at 11am with Playschool, then shut down until teatime!), Robinson Crusoe was dialogue free and in black and white – and yet we loved it. While we’re at it, we’ll have the Banana Splits and Daktari too. Oh and Tarzan with Ron Ely. It’s not much to ask, there’s a million channels out there – let’s have one called Nostalgia TV.
5. Trio chocolate biscuits – another biccie with a brilliant advert, a Trio was really chocolately and had to be consumed with a very large cup of tea.

Seriously, I could be here all day but over to you – let me know what stuff from your childhood you remember most fondly and would love to bring back.