'I am not immune to food fashion, and some of it can be fun. But I aspire to something nearer to the ground, more elemental.'
Wood’s ‘ode to good food’ is more a look at the impact of food on our lives rather than the intricacies of dishing up gourmet food. Wood’s passion for food oozes onto every page of this book, which is aptly subtitled ‘Thoughts on the gift of food’.
We learn about the fabric of Wood’s childhood as she describes her family home, her artistic parents and her mother’s approach to food.
“Food, for my beleaguered mother, was a matter of filling up seven hungry stomachs every day in the most efficient and responsible manner possible before escaping into her beloved garden.”
Intertwined with Wood’s childhood story we are treated to recipes from her parent’s friends within their ‘Catholic circle’. Wood’s tribute version of Mrs Spain’s Hedgehog Slice is one recipe I intend to try out with my children this holidays – it has chocolate in it so it ticks all the boxes.
‘Reclaiming the hostess gift’ is one of my favourite chapters. The hostess gift being that almost forgotten gesture of taking a gift when you turn up to a friend’s place for dinner. We often take bottles of wine or even flowers, but Wood encourages us to take something a bit different, perhaps quince paste or salted caramels, homemade of course. The other ‘relative of the hostess gift’ as Wood describes it, is the homemade Christmas gift and there are some wonderful recipes included to tempt you.
Our family have been negligent of the hostess gift, but the Christmas gift we are good at! For more than 15 years we have been giving gifts to carers who have helped in the care of our son. After the first few years of searching for gifts we began making them – our son involved in the process, which meant the gift mattered to the receiver a great deal more. We have so far exhausted the chutney recipes, chocolate brownies, mince pies and even mulled wine. This year we might try Wood’s Pomegranate Honey.
The coming together of family and friends is a central theme in the book.
“What’s important is the fact of eating together – the gathering at the table, the conviviality.’
Wood’s refers to the beauty of ‘uncomplicated cooking’ with more emphasis on the benefit of sitting down and breaking bread with the people we love and admire than the complexities of cooking a first class meal.
In our frenetic lives, especially for parents with young children it is often difficult to sit down together at a table every night. We try and do it at least four out of seven nights. My kitchen table is the hub of our house. Like wood’s mother I have five children and meals are certainly not gourmet, but they are cooked every night. The kitchen is our meeting place, our time to discuss the day, for siblings to fight or make up, for the loudest to make themselves heard and the quietest to be urged to speak. It is the best time of the day. In many ways the food doesn’t matter, it matters only that it is there to be shared. It is as Wood suggests the act of ‘eating together’ ‘the gathering at the table’ that is important.
Similarly Wood speaks about the gift of food when a friend is gravely ill or caring for someone who is ill. It is often the first thing people do to assist someone in need. Last year when our son was in hospital for three months my fridge and pantry had never been so well stocked. When we returned home and things returned to a more workable pace gifts of food dwindled. My mother in law for months drove to our home once a week with a boot full of cooked food for us. Now, she comes once a month. This week, after hearing our son had been unwell again last week, she drove over in the evening unexpectedly. I answered the door with wet hair, in my pyjamas and my house looked like at least four burglars had ransacked the place. My 78 year old mother in law stood at the door with a plateful of food. We have, over the years had our ups and downs, she has found our son’s situation difficult and was so distressed to see his emaciated stated when he was in hospital last year. I cannot put into words how much her food parcels have meant to me over the last year. It is something she has been able to do for us and at times when it seems nothing else can be done, food is the one thing that as Wood suggests can provide ‘comfort’. It also fills an essential need.
Finally I would like to thank Wood for her tips on chopping an onion without weeping. My daughters found their own cure a few years ago – wearing swimming goggles whilst chopping onions. But, alas, as they became teenagers and began caring about their appearance, even at home, in the kitchen, the swimming goggles were discarded and the tears flowed. I have suggested the tips offered up in this book or rather placed the book under their nose - if the words of advice come from their mother’s mouth they will inevitably be discarded! Charlotte Wood’s words might have an impact. I am not giving the tips away here; you will have to buy the book.
I adored Love & Hunger for its back to basics view of food. I have not yet tried any of the recipes, but they all look uncomplicated and I intend to cook my way through Wood’s book with my children during the school holidays.
It used to be that the kitchen was the centre of family life. Wood’s book will entice you back into the kitchen, a place where giving and receiving and love abounds.