WORDS BY: Rebecca Morse, Radio Host and Writer
As a child of the 80s, I remember Mum serving up rissoles and mashed potatoes, tuna mornay, ham steaks and pineapple, spag bol and a Sunday roast. (All of these meals became problematic when I gave up meat at 13 and entered my bread and lettuce era.)
The only thing Dad ever cooked was a barbie and of course all of the prep/clean-up etc was done by Mum. Dad would collect the accolades for the success of the meal however. And if the meat happened to be overcooked it would be because Mum didn’t have the salads on the table in time.
Mum wasn’t much into baking (what with having a teaching career, running a household and BBQ prep) but her mother, my Nan, was elite. Dessert would consist of caramel slices, apricot slices, butterfly cakes and perfect Neenish tarts.
Two generations down the family tree and I can mess up a pancake mix. In a shaker that only requires the addition of water.
So I wonder what my children’s core food memories are?
I fear they may be shaped around my penchant for outsourcing. Fish and chip Fridays, Sushi Train, Sunday yum cha.
In my defence, the pressure to deliver on the table has increased significantly since the previous meat and three veg generation.
There’s the rise of the celebrity chef, think Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Donna Hay. (And Jamie, those meals only take 20 minutes if you have someone pre-dicing and doing your dishes, mate.)
Then there’s Masterchef, showing normal people cooking extraordinary meals, which makes normal people cooking sub-par meals feel even more sub-par than they did before.
The only Mystery Box in my house is when you open a Tupperware container that’s been hiding at the back of the fridge for a month.
Add to that; social media comparison. Watching parents share their week’s meal preparation on Instagram at the end of the weekend when I’m battling a hangover adds new levels of terror to the Sunday scaries.
Enter TikTok. Yes, it delivered the tomato and feta pasta recipe that motivated my 11 year old to cook for five minutes, but it has also convinced my children that every meal should be different and colourful and accompanied by a viral song.
(A quick digression on food TikToks. I’ve recently found myself deep down the rabbit hole of the Private Chefs in the Hamptons genre which is feeding my feelings of inadequacy in the kitchen and the bank balance but strangely giving me life.)
For the purpose of research, I asked my three daughters about a memorable meal I’ve cooked for them.
My eldest recalled a tuna bake I used to make for her as a toddler. I got the recipe from her childcare centre and it consisted of grating cheese and carrot into the middle of a sheet of puff pastry, adding a can of tuna and folding it into a roll. That is her core food memory. Not the hours I have spent trying to perfect a creamy risotto or a vegetable lasagne. (Granted those attempts have been annual at best.)
My youngest remembered a simple pasta dish with breadcrumbs, lemon juice and parmesan that took 10 minutes to make.
My middle child doesn’t like anything.
All three remembered the times I made a potato salad and some guacamole for a sunset picnic on the beach.
It’s clear then, from my thorough, qualitative analysis of a survey size of three children, that food memories aren’t just tied up with taste and a degree of difficulty that requires a mortar and pestle. They are linked to a time of comfort and security and the innocence of childhood.
I imagine Grace’s nostalgia for that basic tuna bake is linked to the fact that she had no obligation to contribute to the cooking process and wasn’t being nagged to help pack the dishwasher after its preparation like she is now.
Now if you’ll allow me to wrap this up, I have to come up with something on-trend for dinner. Kidding. I’m off to get lost in the Hamptons. The private chefs are serving lobster rolls and gimlets tonight.