The meaning of food
If I close my eyes I can still feel my feet dangling from the staircase at my grandmother’s kitchen. She lived in the 4th floor of a building in the old writer’s quarter in Madrid. The kind of building where the stairs start being tall and they slowly become shorter as you climb up, the windows aren’t too big and everything is narrow. My grandparent’s flat had a small attic —at one point in time my father’s room— right above the kitchen and a red, metallic spiral staircase that connects them. That staircase was where I spent most of my time in that house, sitting on the top, with my feet hanging, just asking my granny to tell me another story of how she was as a kid and watching her cook. The smells that come to my head are not always the same. Sometimes I see her cooking deviled eggs for Christmas lunch (the menu would be deviled eggs, prawns and roasted lamb and potatoes every single year), some other times she’s making croquettes or courgette soup (one of my all time favourites). If I am lucky, I get to lick the wooden spoon she’s used to make the béchamel for the croquettes. That same ritual, licking the spoon after cooking the béchamel, has happened at my mum’s house since I can remember.
My grandmother learned how to cook at age 5, standing on her tiptoes on a stool while her mother (recently blind because of her diabetes) would instruct her on every step of the recipe. She was an only child, so the responsibility of looking after the household (back in the Madrid of the 1950’s) became mostly hers while her dad sold fruit and her mum sold “cupones de la ONCE” to make ends meet. She was born and grew up in la calle de la Ruda, in La Latina quarter until she married my grandfather, whom she had met at a dance when she was in her early 20’s.
It’s funny how most of the things that remind me of my grandmother revolve around food: her deviled eggs, roast potatoes (where I would get the biggest portion much to my uncle’s demise, having had his throne stolen by me), Emmental cheese (because I once said I liked it and therefore there would always be some at her fridge, just in case I went by), the small magnum ice creams, camomile or mint tea after lunch, 3D crisps (my sister’s equivalent to my Emmental cheese), the chocolate treats in a glass jar in her country house. She was also incapable of sitting down for a full meal. Everyone would be around the table and she would be coming back and forth from the dining room to the kitchen the whole time.