Christmas always reminds me of my grandmother and how she is the reason I love to cook. She was a small, wiry, indefatigable woman of German heritage. Even though her fingers were bent crooked with arthritis she kept an immaculately beautiful garden full of trees, flowers, fruits and vegetables. The garden was huge and my grandma and papa tendered it with love and all of the food that came out of it was delicious as a result.
Inside the house the fruits of their labours were on display. The pantry, which was huge, was always stuffed full of preserved fruits of various kinds, biscuits in jars, strawberry and apricot jam, and bottles and bottles of her delicious tomato sauce. Everything was homemade and came out of the garden.
Despite her fingers, my grandma was also an unbelievable cook. My grandparents had their own chickens which provided them with fresh eggs every day and I’ve never tasted fried eggs better than grandma’s. When the eggs dried up the chickens were either roasted if they were young enough, or formed the base for her delicious chicken noodle soup. The chickens actually had flavour too because they were fed with the scraps from the garden. Her pasties were also legendary especially when they were accompanied with her unrivalled tomato sauce.
Christmas Day though, was on a whole other level. We would arrive at her house after church and usually the rest of my uncles and aunties and cousins would be there too. The table would already be groaning under the weight of her cakes; cream lilies and grandma’s German cake were my favourite. Lunch invariably started with a prawn cocktail and was followed by two or three of her delicious roast chickens that were made even more appetising because of the special stuffing that she made. Her roast potatoes were crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy within. Dessert followed and I’d usually have a couple of cream lilies washed down with trifle. Yum! After lunch I’d find a spot under the big walnut tree and have a nap. It was complete heaven.
Years later, when I was living in Japan the only ‘Aussie food’ I missed was my grandma’s cooking. A deeply emotional connection between certain tastes, smells and emotions was formed because of that woman and her food. When I was feeling particularly homesick all I wanted was a pasty made by grandma and a bowl of her chicken noodle soup. Her food reminded me of what home and family meant because of all the beautiful memories that were connected with those tastes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the first things I did upon my return to Australia was to drive to her house in the country to eat a pasty and some chicken noodle soup.
One of the three Christmases I spent in Japan, again because I was missing home, I wanted to make roast chicken with grandma’s stuffing for my friends. I sent grandma a letter asking for her recipe. She replied and inside the letter which included the recipes I needed written in her scribbly hand, was a tiny glad-wrapped package with all of the herbs I required for the stuffing, picked from her garden and already finely chopped for my convenience. Although the chicken wasn’t as good as hers it was one of the best meals I’ve ever cooked.
My grandma showed her love to her family in many ways but expressed it best through her cooking. Needless to say, these little yet significant acts of love and selfless giving will stay with me forever. As will the love I feel for my beautiful grandma. Have a beautiful Christmas.
Pro Deo et Patria.
Deputy Headmaster/Head of Senior School