Apples & Thyme ~ celebrating time in the kitchen with my mother

Slow roasted cherry tomatoes and organic mushrooms with purslane and aged balsamc vinegar

The thing about me, my mother and kitchens is that we’ve spent a lot of time in them together. If not in her kitchen at home, in her restaurant kitchen, where I learnt how to work. And I do mean work. Commercial kitchens are in no way glamorous. Mascara melts off your face, you go home every day smelling of cooking oil, spices and fish. Your hands seem embalmed in garlic and you can say goodbye to manicures forever. Restaurant kitchens are noisy, hot and sweaty. There’s no place for hothouse flowers or timid fieldmice. If you can’t make yourself heard you will be lost, and if you can’t earn your team’s respect you will be dead and buried.

Despite the fact that it was my mother’s kitchen I started out by washing dishes and worked my way through slicing and dicing to cleaning meat and fish. Picking up all sorts of things in the process. It’s a wonderful thing – osmosis.

I still remember the first time I learnt to clean prawns. Our Mozambique prawns from Lorenco Marques are not the prissy little things you get in a margharita glass as a starter here in England. Our prawns are big and luscious, like crevettes or langoustines, and quite beautiful in an alien ballet dancer sort of way. By the end of the second box, with a myriad of tiny nicks and cuts on my hands that stung like hell when I scrubbed them with lemon juice to get rid of the smell, I still found the prawns beautiful and I could clean one perfectly without damaging it unduly.

My mother taught me to cook every dish on her vast and ever changing menu, and she taught me to cook things that were not on the menu. We loved to experiment and her alchemical approach, equal parts science and magic is now an indelible part of my signature too.

In her kitchen she taught me how to shop. For a lunch, a dinner, a party, a good price. For a wedding of 50 and and a busy Sunday service of 500. She taught me how to make something from nothing, how to fix something when it went wrong, how to step up and apologise when you couldn’t fix it. She taught me how to run a business, how to stand up to people who called me girlie, how to run a shift, and how to run a team.

She couldn’t teach me how to earn respect, except by example, but somewhere along the way I grew up, and the wonderful women who worked in her kitchen and helped her build her business went from calling me sisi ( a term of affection towards a younger woman, or a colleague) to calling me mama ( a term accorded with respect). My mother and her kitchen moulded me into who I am today, and for that I thank her.

I also thank her for teaching me how to eat. Even when the cupboard is almost bare, it’s late and I am ravenous, she taught me to make the most of what I have, and to plate and serve it as if I was making it for someone else. So this meal pictured above is a tribute not to what she taught me to cook, but to how she taught me to cook. And if I didn’t know that this scant handful of organic cherry tomatoes and mushrooms (that I quick roasted with a bit of Camargue Fleur de Sel, some virgin olive oil and a clove of garlic) were the last remnants of a drastically depleted salad drawer, I would have thought they were just perfect with the only surviving ciabatta roll gently toasted with a few lonely gratings of mature Somerset cheddar. In fact, so perfect that a clump of fresh washed purslane from the garden, and a sprinkling of aged sweet balsamic vinegar is all that it needed for me to sigh with hedonistic pleasure. But I REALLY must go food shopping tomorrow.

Toasted Ciabatta and organic Somerset cheddar with roasted tomatoes, mushrooms and purslane

I know I have been conspicuously absent from the blogosphere for most of this month, but I would like to thank Pasticerra of Bella Baita View for taking in hand April’s Apples & Thyme event. Check out her roundup for other tributes celebrating time in the kitchen with mother’s and grandmothers. It will be the last Apples & Thyme for a while as Jeni and I both have quite a lot on our plates at the moment, but thank you to all who have participated and shared their wonderful stories and memories with us all. If you would like to read some of the fantastic past roundups click on my Apples & Thyme page above.


16 Responses to “Apples & Thyme ~ celebrating time in the kitchen with my mother”

  1. on 25 Apr 2008 at 2:13 am courtney

    Welcome back. How delighted I was to see your post in my reader.With food costs the way they are we need to learn how to make the most out of every bit. Your mother taught you well.

  2. on 25 Apr 2008 at 8:11 am Pasticcera

    Some things are worth waiting for and this post is one of them. You summarize the lessons of the commercial kitchen very vividly and your mother always sounds so amazing. It seems to run in the family. Thank you for sharing a peek into your life and our simple daily ritual of eating made divine. (It’s the quality of ingredients that makes all the difference!)

  3. on 25 Apr 2008 at 2:28 pm Bellini Valli

    As always a beautiful insight into what has shaped you as a person and a foodie. Keep on bloggin on:D

  4. on 26 Apr 2008 at 2:32 am marye

    Lovely as glad you are back..I have missed visiting.

  5. on 26 Apr 2008 at 1:40 pm Ann

    So glad to see you back! Loved reading about your mother-daughter kitchen experiences!

  6. on 26 Apr 2008 at 3:48 pm bleeding espresso

    So lovely as always–you can come and play with what’s left in my nearly bare cupboards anytime :)

  7. on 27 Apr 2008 at 7:44 pm Andrea

    So glad to see you back! Your mother has been quite an influence on you and your cooking, and I love your stories.

  8. on 28 Apr 2008 at 4:11 pm african vanielje

    Courtney, I am finally getting my act together and it is good to be back posting.

    Marla, thank you so much for doing this month’s apples & thyme, especially since you are pretty busy as well.

    Val, why thank you ma’am. I hope you had a good easter with your daughter.

    Thanks Marye, have missed visiting you too. I kept imagining chocolate, chipotle, and rosepetal scones, or other equally exotic creations you might be coming up with in my absence

    Ann, thank you, and I still intend to write up a mini pie revolution entry one of these days.

    Sognatrice, it’s been far too long since I’ve rambled my way through the Italian quarter so will be visiting soon.

    Andrea, if I’m just a little bit like my mom when I grow up I’ll be happy.

    Thank you all for visiting and see you on your sites soon. xx Inge

  9. on 29 Apr 2008 at 2:15 am Jeni

    Inge – what an incredible array of experiences and memories you have had with your mom. Wow! I love the respect you have for her and what she taught you. This post really, really touched me. The ability to make yourself a meal out of “nothing” or whatever scraps are on hand, is a real art in my book.


  10. on 30 Apr 2008 at 7:23 am myfrenchkitchen

    Once again a lovely experience recall from your mom’s kitchen…example is by far the best teacher. Your pic looks lovely, healthy and inviting!

  11. on 30 Apr 2008 at 8:51 pm Nina

    I loved the story of you and your mom in the kitchen. My daughter is 7 and we spend many happy moments in the kitchen. I trust she will one day have a lovely memory just like you.

    Glad you’re back.

  12. on 30 Apr 2008 at 10:08 pm pia

    and what feasts you guys cooked up… i miss those days! so, are the cooking talents being passed on to the new generation as well? lovely pic – it’s made me hungry :-)

  13. on 01 May 2008 at 9:11 am african vanielje

    Thanks J. Yes, the something out of nothing trick is real handy.

    Ronell, good to see you again. I just spent a week in France and was thinking of you and your lovely atelier

    Nina, I’m sure your daughter’s memories will be good. Any quality time spent with kids leaves a good memory

    Pia, welcome. Thanks for visiting and congrats on your runner – up status in the SA blog awards.

  14. on 01 May 2008 at 10:58 pm bee

    what a great way to pay tribute to and celebrate your mom. you write so well.

  15. on 02 May 2008 at 1:42 pm Jeanne

    Hey stranger! I tried to visit the ohter day but got a broken link and a weird error message. Glad to see it’s sorted now :) Love this post. It reminded me of how my mom (who was not a professional like yours, but still taught me the basiscs of everything I know today) taught me from abotu the age of 16 how to organise and shop for a party or a weekend away. I suspect that’s why, when we used to rent a house in Plett after end of year varsity exams, I was always deputised to draw up the budget, shopping list and menu plan, and then just tell everyone what to bring!

    This impromptu meal looks lovely – isn’t it funny how meals scraped together from the dregs of the veg drawer are often the best – and sadly unrepeatable?

  16. on 08 May 2008 at 6:47 pm bee

    there’s something for you here.

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