I was thinking of tomatoes this morning as I walked. We have two large ones sitting on our kitchen window sill and not much in the fridge after our weeks away.
Should I stuff them, make them into a sauce or just slice them in a salad tonight - just as we ate them at Bistrot du Paradou?
This summer on the farm I seem to have eaten a lot of tomatoes – the red and yellow cherry and grape tomatoes we have grown, romas roasted until tinged black on their edges, big red ones sliced onto a pretty plate with a drizzle of vinegar and oil then sprinkled with shredded basil, salt and pepper.
That tomato tart - tartin I made twice because it was so good.
During the last two weeks in France I enjoyed daily the most delicious ox heart tomatoes I have ever eaten.
Yet the tomatoes I was thinking about this morning were the grilled tomatoes Mum used to make – halved and topped with a slice of cheese, popped under the oven grill until they were soft and gooey – and suddenly I was sobbing. It is over two years since she died and I can still be swamped with a memory that brings me to tears, out of nowhere.
I wiped my face with my t-shirt, blubbered a bit more and thought of the different lives Mum and I had led and yet cooking and eating had been a common and constant interest that flourished as we both grew older.
Widowed at 40, with three children under 8, Mum’s interest in food in our early years was making sure that we had enough to eat and that we ate it. Meat and two veg (always a potato) most nights but by the early 70's spag bol was also on the menu. Dessert, a bowl of tinned fruit and ice-cream. It was good food – and cooked by Mum each night. Friday nights we had take-away fish or battered sav and chips, and Sunday nights her home cooked hot chips in greaseproof paper or thin pancakes sprinkled with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice.
For our birthdays – we got to choose our special meal. That grilled tomato was a part of my favourite birthday dinner for most of my childhood – it sat alongside a crumbed lamb cutlet or crumbed pork mince, with peas, grilled pineapple (sometimes grilled banana too) and hot chips. A Street's chocolate drumstick for dessert.
By the time I was in my mid twenties my interest in cooking had grown and coincided with Mum having more time to cook and entertain. We talked a lot about food that we had eaten and planned to cook, we shared recipes and occasional meals.
Later, when we were all together for a family weekend my brother–in-law once pointed out that we were planning our next meal while we were eating the current one.
My mother, sister and I looked at each other. Well, of course.
By the time Mum was in her 60's and retired her repertoire was extending and always impressive. Family and friends were served many new dishes - smoky tagines, slow cooked casseroles, roast pork loin accompanied by the latest vegetable side dishes, cold peach and basil soup, trout with dill and sour cream, tomato and gruyere tart. Her pastry was always light.
When I cleaned out her kitchen cupboards after she died I found opened packages of harissa, sumac and tagine spices among her two shelves laden with the usual herbs and spices - all testament to her adventures with cooking and sharing food well into her 80’s. I kept them and enjoy knowing that as I use them a little bit of her is being sprinkled into my dinner.
I think perhaps that birthday memory was fresh because I have just celebrated mine – this year eating bouillabaisse on a beautiful sunny day in Bandol in the South of France.
As I said, we had a different life, but this memory of food shared has endured for over 40 years.
Miss you Mum. xx