A recipe for life…

As a writer of historical fiction, one appreciates all the grand historical times – the Greeks, Romans, Dark Age Britain, Vikings, Byzantines, Renaissance. Sweeping, glorious stories that are the stepping stones of the world as we know it today.

But sometimes, history is miniscule. And personal.

Finally, after two years of just touching the surface, I sat and read through my mother’s recipe book in detail. Mum loved cooking. Rather in the same way that she loved gardening. If she needed to get away from life or if she was bored, or if she just plain needed food, she’d cook!


Till now,  reading her recipe book has been a little raw. But this time it was such a journey of discovery.

There were tears, certainly. Especially when I saw Mum’s writing change as macular degeneration began to strengthen its grip…

And when I saw what I had written for her to try and help her retain her lifelong love of cooking against the odds.

But there were lovely moments too – many recipes from her two closest friends – Mary and Pat.

And others from card-playing friends like Frances, or the Penguin Club ladies (like Peggy) who used to raise money for charity. Even better that she had them write in the book themselves. A personal autograph, if you like. And how much better than email or a link to an online recipe?

There were also some recipes from my most favourite uncle.

This man was an aesthete, a gifted man who could play the piano like a god and paint beautifully. He was in fact a dentist but if he’d been fortunate to have d’ruthers, I think he would have been an artist. We got on so well – he took a genuine interest in all my creative projects and was generous to a fault.

I have some of his artwork  (these watercolours of the east coast, a miniature landscape and a pencil drawing of a mare and foal – all of which I cherish) and I think he was happiest when lost in paint and pencil. He had the knack of capturing the light and colour of the east coast – the soft grey blues of the Australian bush and the mellow shades of the coastline.

But, back to Mum’s recipe book…

As I was reading, I came across a recipe in my uncle’s handwriting and was sent down a small memory lane.

It’s for orange chutney and as I read through the words, I could taste the flavours on my tongue as a side dish to curries. Today I decided to make it and as it began to bubble, I sniffed the steam and the memory lane became a highway to my family’s history.

My uncle’s father was a member of the Light Brigade and sometimes I think there’s more than a touch of that history in the recipes my uncle wrote in Mum’s book. The orange chutney smacks more of the spice of the Middle east than India.

So you see, the Greeks built the Parthenon and fought a battle called Marathon. The Romans built the Coliseum and had wars  everywhere. Dark Age Britain had Lindisfarne and Boadicea, the Vikings had … pillaging. The Byzantines built Sancta Sophia, nurtured trade and blinded their family members. The Renaissance had Leonardo da Vinci, the Borgias and intrigue.

Yes, I know I’m being glib.

But I have an old recipe book and it took me back through a personal history where I remembered a super Mum, a great family and an uncle who liked cooking…