“Do you want milk with your prawns?” (Julia Davis in Nighty Night)
All families have food traditions which are peculiar to their tribe, established by long-suffering and/or adventurous mothers and passed down the generations. The family are entirely accepting of them, but every so often an outsider will pierce the carapace of weirdness and expose the food-freakery that has been brewing.
I speak from experience. One of my first gastronomic experiences with my now-husband’s family was a plate of macaroni cheese served with a cylindrical roll of ham. On closer examination (while my mother-in-law-to-be was still the other side of the serving hatch) I realized the ham was wrapped around a banana. I screamed on the inside, quickly deconstructed it, and put the banana on my side plate. No-one else turned a hair. It was normal for them.
That same woman laments the disappearance of her favourite dish from the Townswomen’s Guild: beetroot in blackcurrant jelly. She doesn’t cook now that she’s a widow, and eats “mainly squid” (conjuring up an image of her as a huge, foraging sea monster). Her cooking was so legendary that I used to run upstairs after meals to text my friends the latest culinary horror. It often went something like this “cucumber slices in malt vinegar, shredded iceberg lettuce, and a ‘flan’ made with inch-thick pastry filled with skimmed milk, eggs, half-fat cheese, bacon, pineapple chunks and prawns, with plums stewed in sugar-free squash for pudding”.
My own mother isn’t without blame. Her memorable home remedy for the common cold was whole, raw garlic cloves floating in hot Ribena. I had to crunch through the cloves, then drink. It didn’t make me better, but it certainly stopped me complaining. Mother 1: me nil.
I have a distant cousin who lives in Huckleberry Drive, Montana. Every time I saw that address as a child I wondered if there was really was such a berry and what it was like (that was before Google). After years of anticipation it was rather exciting to be served them in a pie made by his wife. All I can remember now is the crisp, short, sweet pastry that encased these wild fruits – and that it was made with bear fat, rendered down by Uncle Bob himself.
So when you squirm – or laugh out loud – at the mention of dog’s penis being eaten in Korea, or spasming dead octopus in Japan, take a closer look at those around you. One man’s meat is another man’s poison, as the old saying goes.