My grandmother's antique wooden jewellery box is lying open on the floor in front of me as my little sister and I sit and play dress-up with her pearls. I twist the shimmering string of beads around my neck until they look just right - how my granny wears them. My sister is trying to figure out an old, embroidered brooch - her dainty fingers fumbling on the tiny silver clasp. The clouds of mouth-watering aromas that waft from the kitchen and fall around us go completely unnoticed as we sit and dream about being elegant ladies in long gowns, with make-up and satin gloves.
As I grew older though, those billowing clouds became more noticeable and intriguing while the jewellery box was long forgotten. I would stand and watch my grandmother as she stirred, chopped, fried, roasted, boiled, pickled, stewed, steamed and (occasionally) burnt her way to the heart-warming and delicious meals that have embedded themselves in my memories.
My grandfather was an avid gardener, with a beautiful vegetable garden any chef would yearn for, so the vegetables my grandmother cooked were freshly harvested - usually by my sister and I. We would venture outside in our red gumboots, hats and sunblock (strict instructions from my mother) and yank bright orange carrots, turnips and beetroot from the moist, rich earth. Soil still clinging to the vegetables (and our hands and feet) we would proudly display our efforts to my grandmother who never seemed to notice that we trampled mud all over her carpet. This, I am sure, is where my love of fresh vegetables came from.
I remember a year when the beetroot had flourished and in an effort to spare us all from eating beetroot every day for a week, my grandmother decided to try her hand at pickling. She spent the good part of the day slashing the cheery purple vegetables into chunks. With the pressure cooker doing the rest of the labour, my grandmother got to work scrubbing the bright pink ink from her wrinkly fingers. There was a hiss from the kitchen and the pressure cooker abruptly exploded, flinging vinegary purple liquid on the ceiling, the walls, the floor and all over my poor grandmother. Needless to say, her fingers were the least of her worries!
As I grew older, my passion for baking began to blossom; however, my grandmother never seemed to share the same enthusiasm as I did over sponge cakes and iced biscuits. Most of my visits were spent sprawled in front of her bookcase, consumed by her ancient cookbooks, where I would spend hours choosing the perfect recipe then spend the next few hours begging her to help me make fluffy, white meringues that had to look exactly like the picture. After recovering from the disappointment of removing a rather flat, dull, sticky-looking tray of meringues from the oven, I soon discovered that cooking was definitely my grandmother's strength!
My grandmother's cooking and my grandfather's love for food and gardening taught me that food is an adventure and an experience. I treasure every moment, every mouthful and every memory I have of my grandmother's kitchen.
*this post was inspired by my fellow foodie friend's blog: www.carelesscreative.blogspot.com