Food is like magic, it has this way of transporting you back in time. Back to when you first encountered ‘that’ smell or taste, where you were and who you were with. Two of my earliest memories are food related, the first when I was three.
My mum and dad used to own a grocery store in Nunhead (South East London) and we used to live above it. Since I was able to walk, if the shop was busy or dad was at the market mum would have to serve the customers and I would play in the shop in amongst all the fruit and veg. Always curious and not a fussy child I used to eat everything I could get my hands on (this hasn’t changed). Partly because I was surrounded by it and partly my parents influence and their Turkish Cypriot roots, for which today I am very grateful. I adored fresh figs, the green ones, chewing on artichoke leaves and peeling juicy medlars, they were my favourite. I also loved prickly pears. Too young to understand what the name meant, I only ever saw them peeled and used to devour them along with everything else I was given, until this one day my small, curious, three year old hand decided to pick one up, skin on. I soon found out where the name prickly pear came from and mum assures me I screamed the place down whilst being sat on my dad’s knee as he plucked out the cactus prickles with tweezers, ouch!
The second early memory I have is going fruit picking with my family, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. A weekly tradition in the warmer months, we’d pack a barbecue and a picnic and then cook and eat whatever it was we had just picked, straight from farm to table. For anyone not familiar with a ‘pick your own’ farm, basically you go along for free and pick whatever they have, all organic and seasonal and then you pay for what you’ve picked on the way out. Beats the supermarket any day of the week.
As kids we’d slowly make our way along the rows and rows of fruit, baskets dragging along the ground because they were almost bigger than us, filling them with the biggest and best strawberries, raspberries, plums we could find, comparing along the way to see who had picked the biggest one.
Last weekend I was home for a few days so dad and I got to take my grandad and we brought my nephew along for his first time. I can’t explain in words how surreal it was to be back there as an adult, watching my grandad smiling at the size of the runner beans, scouring the plants and leaning right in to pick the biggest ones from the back. Laughing my nephew pulling faces tasting a sour, unripe plum, watching him get lost in a corn field twice the size of him and then eating a raw corn on the cob straight out of the husk, so juicy it tastes like it has been cooked. My dad was in his element. It brought back so many memories from my childhood and made me realise how lucky we were growing up as kids to have this appreciation of where our food came from, to understand what it looked and tasted like growing, whole and raw and also where my love of food has come from, the start of my food journey.