"What we eat in our childhoods becomes part of us, folded up in our memories and personality"by Wendell Steavenson / December 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
My mother was born in New York in 1941, into the rarefied climes of haute Wasp (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), the American version of nobs. She grew up between the Upper East Side, the family estate in Oyster Bay, Long Island and the country club. “Daddy would come home in the evening and put his hat in the closet and whistle. My mother would have dressed for dinner.” This would be, for example, lamb chops, mashed potato and spinach, served by Maureen, the maid-waitress in the dining room. Butter was rolled into spherical pats and placed on plates with crackers and a butter knife. Her mother told her, “You are never to go in the kitchen or the cook will quit!”
At 15 she was sent to Europe on a chaperoned trip and ate a meal that changed her life. “Pointe du Raz in Brittany, a fisherman’s shack on the pier, a galvanised pail full of seawater and seaweed. You dipped your hand in and pulled up whatever came to hand: crabs, shrimps, clams, snails. There were bowls of pale coloured gloopy stuff on the table—homemade mayonnaise. I had never tasted anything like it. All I’d ever known was Hellmann’s. It was one of the first revelations I had about how food could taste.”
My mother got married when she was 19 and before her wedding she was sent to see the butler in the “big house” on the estate, where her grandparents lived in some splendour. He taught her how to set a table and arrange flowers. As part of her instruction, she was taught basic cookery.
“She got so good at Soufflés that she used to make a tomato Soufflé in a hollowed-out artichoke and a horseradish Soufflé in a beetroot”
She still has the leatherette ring binder filled with pages of recipes that she meticulously typed out and sorted into different categories; Hors d’Oeuvres, Soups, Meat, Salads, Sauces, Pastry. Here is the 1950s dinner party neatly set out. To accompany cocktails: stuffed eggs: onions + curry + anchovy paste; red caviar [jars of dyed lumpfish roe] mixed with sour cream; celery stuffed with cheese or raw hamburger [what the Americans call mince]. Chicken Stroganoff, brown sauce for beef, potato salad Caruso, Crêpes Niçoise Cordon…