My sisters and I weren’t very adventurous eaters growing up. Meat and three veg, spag bol if Mum was feeling fancy and (after she’d sent him on an Asian cookery course as a ‘treat’) the occasional beef stir-fry with onion and red capsicum if Dad was in charge of dinner.
Occasionally our dear mother would attempt to expand her repertoire (and our palates) with something more exotic, to mixed responses. Her first attempt at cous-cous was declared “crap-crap” by her ungrateful eldest daughter, and we were all well into adulthood before we realised that seafood was more than frozen fish fingers. But that’s not to say that Mother couldn’t cook, on the contrary. With the exception of a fantastically revolting rotisserie chicken, tomato paste and rice concoction, festooned upon us by Trish from Next Door and faithfully reproduced by Mother for two years until we begged her to stop, we were amply and happily fed by a mum who worked full time. So in celebration of our mothers, the dinners they raised us on and the completely coincidental fact that May 12 is Mother’s Day, here are the most memorable dishes from the Taste Team’s childhoods.
Anya’s Mum – Curry, Pikelets and Casseroles
It comes as no suprise that Territory Taste’s fearless publisher grew up on a farm in country NSW, with a pantry stocked with fresh produce and a mum who could turn meat and three veg into restaurant fare with homemade mint sauce to boot.
Her one quirk however, was to subscribe to the 70s and 80s vogue of putting sweet preserved fruit in things that should really have remained savoury. It’s true that certain subcontinental cuisines have always embraced the inclusion of sweet fruits like sultanas, currants and pineapple as part of complex spiced flavours, but when it comes to country cooking, poached fruit should really have stopped after apricot chicken. Anya also recalls that her mum could whip up a pikelet batter as quick as a gravy for roast … Mmm, pikelets. When I was a kid pikelets were my Dad’s domain. He would cook them up on a Sunday morning on the barbeque, which gave them an exquisite smokey, savoury flavour with just a hint of last night’s chops.
Sukran’s Mum – Stuffed Capsicum with Rice and Mince Dolmades
If you assumed Turkish cuisine begins with coffee, ends with Turkish delight and has something to do with warm towels in the middle, you’d be wrong. Turkish food embodies a certain spice and aroma that, if you are lucky enough to have been there, envokes feelings of colour, life, flavour and family. If you haven’t been, and have also gone your whole life without tasting a stuffed capsicum, then I really feel sorry for you. And not just because you haven’t properly enjoyed paprika yet. Sukran is a long way from her childhood home, but she recalls with vividity the flavour and aroma of her mum’s best dishes. Which makes me wonder… as Taste’s lead designer, why hasn’t she brought us all a batch of mince dolmades to sample yet?
Mel’s Mum – Mac ‘n’ Cheese
If you’re feeling flat, the most homely, snuggly bowl of awesome you could hope to receive is mac ‘n’ cheese. And not just anyone’s mac n cheese, it has to be your mum’s. Because like Vegemite toast, NO ONE MAKES IT THE SAME AS MUM.
Mel’s mum made her mac ‘n’ cheese when she was a kid, which led to a lifelong love of cheesy pasta, a love that Mel and passed onto her boys. That and a love of grapes.
Natalia’s Yiayia – Moussaka
Thanks to the long-established Greek families of Darwin (Manolis, I’m looking in your direction), moussaka, along with laksa and barramundi numus, is practically a local dish. Natalia, who as a school kid was a long-suffering boarder, fondly remembers going home for Friday lunch after starving all week at school and sitting down to a Greek feast with her mum and brothers, all lovingly prepared by her Yiayia. Moussaka with roast potatoes that had been cooking for hours, Greek beans in tomato sauce and fakes (lentils), led to a comfortingly full belly and the promise of a whole weekend without school.
Kelly’s Mum – Baked Rice Custard
Rice-based puddings enjoyed a certain vogue in the 1980s, helped along by the fact that more and more mums were working full time; they were a relatively easy dessert to whip up for the time poor. Unless of course you were Kelly’s mum, who managed to stuff up her signature dessert so regularly that when she did she just served it up anyway and called it ‘Creamy Rice’ instead. In the marketing industry, we call it ‘rebranding’.
Kristy’s Mum – Tuna Mornay
Tuna mornay conjures up a certain something. For me, it’s a perfectly good mac ‘n’ cheese (thanks Mel) utterly despoiled by a thready, fishy awfulness that smells, tastes and presents a mouthfeel exactly like the contents of a cat’s foodbowl with a dash of kitty litter. But I am indeed in the minority, for tuna mornay was a beloved staple of the working mother’s kitchen arsenal in the latter decades of the twentieth century.
Dani’s Mum – Roast Lamb
Do you remember, way back in the early 90s a doe-eyed young lass gave up dinner with Tom Cruise for one of her mum’s lamb roasts? Just me then? Dani’s mum cooks her family lamb roast every Sunday, with all the trimmings, which Dani says is the best hangover cure a regretful Monsoon’s refugee could ever hope for.
Sez’s Mum – Peanut Butter sandwiches
When I was in primary school, Mum made a week’s worth of peanut butter sandwiches on Sunday evenings and packed them in the freezer; each sandwich arrived in my lunchbox still frozen. I was well into my teens before I learned that bread is usually served at room temperature, but to this day I remember the chilly taste of those sandwiches with fondness. On a side note, in celebration of Dads, mine was responsible not only for the laundry, but for all of our childhood birthday cakes. So whether you celebrate Mother’s Day or not, why not do your mum, or your Yiayia, your Auntie or your dear old dad a favour and cook them a hearty meal. Even if it’s only beans on toast, if it comes from the heart I’m sure they’ll remember it.