How does one start a story about a family reunion and then make it relevant to food? There has been so much written down through the centuries about the centrality of food to family life. There isn’t anything I could add, beyond a few examples.
My first example is a thing – the table. At the farm, when I was a child, there was the largest table in the world. Even if I’d been an adult, I’m sure it would still have been huge. The number of people sitting around it could not be counted on two hands. It wasn’t one of those long skinny jobs. There was nothing trestle about this timber. There was a dinner table was in the family room, but the table of my memories lived on the closed-in verandah and was used for larger gatherings. I see women standing around it, peeling fruit and bottling them in the fowler jars; huge dinners; and building a kite once with aunts and uncles and cousins.
I fell off it and cut my forehead. That might explain a few things.
The second example is an activity – picking mushrooms. After roaming paddocks and scrub, we would peel our harvest and twist out the stalks. I recently heard Jamie Oliver say how much he enjoyed peeling mushrooms. I love peeling mushrooms, too. It was a challenge to cleanly remove the skin so that there were no rough edges, no dings and dents in the circle that contained the dark underside – a study in concentration.
I didn’t eat the mushrooms. I didn’t like either the strong smell or taste.
The point, I’ve decided, is that food connects to family life in so many ways. It’s not just about eating. If anything, the eating part is boring when compared with all the associated activities.
Instead, there’s the art of building campfires; balancing the spit so that it turns evenly; collecting the eggs; sharing the stories that belong to particular pieces of crockery and cutlery; pretending to make cocktails by mixing cordial drinks at weddings; and discussing with your sibling how to deal with mashed pumpkin when you discover that pumpkin and tomato sauce don’t like each other.