Thursday, August 25, 2005

MEME: Childhood memories

Melissa of The Traveller's Lunchbox has tagged me for the latest meme sweeping through the foodblogging community and it's a real pleasure to take part. I enjoyed reading the cookbook memes and the cook next door memes of fellow foodbloggers when I started in June 2005 - it was fascinating to get a small glimpse into the lives of more experienced bloggers. Although quite a few of my friends are very good cooks, I'm probably the only one verging on the obsession (you know, buying yet another cookbook, reading all food magazines, getting out of bed early on Saturday morning to go to the farmers market, getting excited about good/new/interesting ingredients, and gleaming proudly at everything she cooks), so it was comforting to find out that I am pretty normal after all..

Here are some food-related bits and pieces from my childhood - not strictly five, but a few more:

1. I have quite a few childhood food memories related to my grandparents farm in Paluküla, some 80 kilometres south from the capital Tallinn. I spent about one month there every summer, alongside with a varying combination of my 11 cousins. It was quite a large farm with cats, dogs, cows (in addition to my grandparents' cows, there were several collective farm cowsheds at the farm), sheep, chicken, and orchards, fields after fields of potatoes and other vegetables etc.

There were lots of forests near the farm and one of the most vivid memories is of going wild mushroom picking with my grandfather. He was a big, untalkative and somewhat scary man, who died when I was 7. Although I can't remember ever playing with him (he was probably too busy working for that) or chatting with him, I remember following him into the forest, where he'd show us the mushrooms to pick and the ones to leave behind.

There were lots of wild strawberry fields at the farm and at the nearby hillside. There's nothing better than grabbing a small jug or plastic container and heading for the fields. The first few handfuls would end up straight in our mouths, of course. After couple of hours in the sun, we'd head back, crush the strawberries at the bottom of a glass with some sugar, pour over some freshly milked cow milk and enjoy. Blissful..

I remember picking cloudberries, blueberries/bilberries, bog bilberries, cranberries, wild raspberries and lingonberries with my grandmother, Mum, aunties and cousins - whoever happened to be at the farm.

Making apple juice was always lots of fun. We'd spent all day collecting ripe apples from the orchard, washing them, squashing through the big wooden chopper/presser, and then drinking as much freshly squeezed apple juice as we could handle. This was an elaborate affair, often taking more than a day.

2. For whatever reason I used to dip tomatoes into sugar when I was younger. And I don't think it was to compensate for the lack of sweetness, as I did it with bright red and ripe tomatoes grown in my grandmother's greenhouse. Now I eat tomatoes with coarsely ground black pepper. Talk about changing tastes.

3. There was a childrens' TV programme, Kass Artur - about a cat called Arthur - in our only Estonian language TV channel back in 1980s. In one of the programmes, the 'cat' gave a recipe for a sickly sweet concoction involving toffees, butter and puffed corn. Almost 20 years on, this is still one of the favourites at children's parties and can even be bought in shops - and it's known as 'Kass Arturi kook' or the cake of cat Arthur. Here's one I made couple of months ago - my nephews absolutely adored it.

4. Chicken neck soup (kanakaelasupp) is one of the food memories I'd rather forget. In the Soviet Estonia of 1980s, the shops got pretty empty, and I've mentioned the need to be self-sufficient already. But despite of the empty shops, we never went hungry. Potatoes and other vegs came from my grandparents' farm, mum grew various fruit, berries and vegetables in our garden. Meat was slightly more difficult to get hold of, but my grandmother slaughtered a pig every now and then (yep, have witnessed this, too), and one of my Mum's younger sisters knew people in a chicken abattoir, so we were not on a totally vegetarian diet. Auntie Valve brought us some chicken necks (cleaned and gutted, obviously) every now and then, which my Mum used to make soup. And I hated it. There was no meat to talk about - just loads of tiny bones that you were expected to suck to get out the meaty juices. Not really my cup of tea. Chicken gizzard stew (kanapuguhautis), on the other hand, I quite liked and wouldn't mind cooking myself again in the future...
(Auntie Valve also brought us some smoked chicken roulade every now and then, which was absolutely delicious and a staple at any festive table).

5. Another sad food memory involves rabbits. It must have been in early 1980s, when my parents had got hold of two rabbits that were put into a special shed in our back garden. The aim - to raise two big rabbits for a stew later in the year. It was my sister's and my chore to feed the rabbits grass and salad leaves during the summer. Unfortunately, we both picked and bonded with 'a pet rabbit' over the summer. You can imagine our sadness when my Mum announced then that poor rabbits are at the end of their lives soon. And indeed, they ended up as a rabbit stew one after another. I remember not eating a single spoonful of rabbit stew made of _my_ rabbit. And my sister refused a single spoonful of a rabbit stew made of _her_ rabbit. We had no problem whatsoever eating the other stew though.. Life can be so cruel sometimes..
Come to think of that, I now also remember protesting once with my cousins when my granny made a big pot of veal stew. We thought it was slightly cruel of her to use the baby cows we used to go and pat and play with every now and then...

6. I have already mentioned kama 'chocolate' bar - this is also one of my childhood sweets.

7. There's another food memory that always brings a smile at my face. Roasting potatoes in the dying ashes of a midsummer bonfire, and then eating them with nothing else but a sprinkling of salt. This was pre-foil era, so our hands would always end up smeared with dark grey ash dust. But it was always a cosy and romantic affair, even as a kid..

8. Strictly speaking, this is not a childhood memory, as I have no recollection of it whatsoever. But my grandmother insists that I used to sneak into the larder and pick out all fatty pieces from the mortadella-type sausages when I was a kid - see those tiny white speckles on the right? I think she's lying. As I said, I have no recollection of that activity and in any case, I always choose the sausage from the shop with no visible fatty speckles. So it couldn't have been me, could it?
(Or maybe I did go OTT with eating fat from sausages as a kid and now avoid it at some unconscious level??)


I'd like to tag Johanna and Moira for this meme, who were my blogging by mail buddies recently. I also tag Paz for this meme, as a thanks for being such an avid visitor of my blog.*

That's the meme tree at the moment: -- when it's your turn, simply move down the list, dropping number one from the top spot, moving the numbers down, and placing yourself in the number five spot (and of course, linking to each):

1. Cuisine et Compagnie
2. Chocolate and Zucchini
3. A Finger in Every Pie
4. The Traveler's Lunchbox
5. Nami-Nami

* I would have really wanted to tag Anne of Anne's Food as it would have been interesting to hear if there're any other Estonian food memories apart from 'pelmeenid' - but then she has already participated in this meme:)


Anne said...

Ooh, I loved reading that! I should ask my dad sometime, what he remembers.. but then again, they fled to Sweden when he was just seven. Of course, they mostly ate Estonian during his childhood anyway. I have a few other experiences with Estonian food, but really, not much.

1. My dad makes dark rye bread, in an old wooden barrel. Some kind of heritage thing for him. I hated it as a kid but is quite fond of it now. (With loads of butter and cheese = bliss.)

2. Mushroom salad - just chopped mushrooms (chanterelles, right now), finely diced onion and creme fraiche. And salt and pepper.

3. My roommate at university was half-Estonian too. She'd slice an entire cucumber into creme fraiche, add tons of salt, and devour. I thought that was a bit weird though.

4. I distinctly remember my grandparents making blood sausages every christmas. (And I have the pics to prove it. I look disgusted even back then.) That I've never tried, and I doubt I ever will. Scary stuff. My dad doesn't make his own (actually he and my uncle made some a few years back) but usually buys them from a small shop in Stockholm. He only goes there once a year, but the owner knows just what he wants. So weird. (It's sort of a deli - they have all kinds of stuff. Maybe dad looks Estonian, and all Estonians in Stockholm buy their blood sausages for christmas there??)

Pille said...

Hi Anne - thanks for your lovely reply!

1) I told my mum last week that should she want to give me something as a present for Xmas, I'd really like to have a downsized version of the old-fashioned wooden barrel for mixing and proving the bread dough.

And I came back to Edinburgh with no less than 5 loafs of dark rye bread on Sunday and stacked them in the freezer..

2) this is my favourite mushroom salad, though I never use chantarelles (these are for quiches and sauces, will blog about it in a few days). Chopped mushrooms, onions, creme fraiche/sour cream, salt and dill. Bliss.

3) your roommate's salad is also a music to my ears. Cucumbers with salt and sourcream is the best cucumber salad in the world:) You can also throw in fresh sliced tomatoes.

4) Sorry to make you squeemish, but it's not a Xmas without blood sausages. And - I brought back a thick 400gram black pudding (slightly different thing from blood sausages, as it's a bit more dense) this time with me as well. Am really looking forward to eating it sometimes next week:)

Some food habits are ingrained, I guess:)))

Anne said...

Haha - it's really cool to hear that what I think of as Estonian.. really is. We have Blood Pudding here, I think it's similar to the Black pudding. I won't eat that, either. (Although I have tried it, in school.) Fairly sweet, and served with bacon and lingonberries. And VERY cheap.

Look forward to reading about the quiche - chanterelles are really cheap in the stores here at the moment!

Joycelyn said...

hi pille, what a lovely lovely post...thank you very much for sharing...i especially liked the wild mushroom and berry gathering were a hunter/gatherer right from the get-go ;) cheers,j

Spinning Girl said...

#1 sounds like heaven.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pille,
I enjoyed reading your childhood food memories (also enjoyed reading Anne's memories above).

Unfortunately, I have a similar experience with your rabbit story: My family got rabbits, which my sister and I were supposed to feed, before and after school. We thought they were pets and we cared for and played with them.

At least you were warned that your rabbits would be made into a meal. We weren't. One day, after school, we were eating lunch -- some delicious-tasting stew. I asked what was in it and told nicely that it was MY rabbit. Luckily I got over it and wasn't traumatized for life.

Wow, Pille! I never expected to be picked for a meme. Thanks for inviting me to participate. ;-)


p.s. I'm an "avid visitor" because I enjoy your blog. ;-)

Pille said...

Hi Anne - indeed, seems that your 'suspicions' about Estonian food were right:) I posted the story about chantarelles already (had planned to do that later, after writing about ethnic lunch first, but here you go).

J - I'm glad you liked the post. Mmmm. Maybe I was a hunter-gatherer to start with indeed - but later years as an urbanite have probably made me a dangerous mushroom picker:)

Spinning girl - glad you agree. I'm sure you have very similar memories to share? Feel free:)

Paz - i meant 'avid' in a very positive way - and I'm flattered you like my blog:) Sorry (and also funny) to hear that we have similar (non)pet rabbit memories - maybe rabbits should be only given to children with prior warning about their fate? My sister has just taken a pet rabbit for her older boy - but I'm quite sure the emphasis is on 'pet' here and that bunny will die a natural death when it's time..
Looking forward to reading your meme!

Anonymous said...

Hi Pille,thank you for sharing your foodie childhood memories -what a read ! I have got a regular visitor of your site - just as Paz - and it goes back to Johanna`s reporting about your blogging by mail experience...and how much I like your posts! Looking forward to reading more - and also to Paz`s childhood memories...kind regards and take care ! angelika

Pille said...

Hi Angelika - thanks for stopping by again! I'm glad you like my blog - and must thank Johanna for leading you here:)
Paz - thanks for replying to the meme already! I enjoyed reading it!