Tradition - a Mothers' Day post

Mrs Aperitif with her pride & joy

Jean-Anthèlme Brillat-Savarin wrote that to receive someone into your home is to assume responsibility for their well-being and happiness until they leave. I was in my 40s before I read that, but it was something I’d known since I was a child, and when I did read it, I recognised immediately an approach to hospitality that I’d inherited from my Mum. I felt like I'd discovered something that had always been there, written into my DNA.

Food has always been an important element of my Mum’s mothering. When we were at home, she took great pleasure in providing for our needs. Food was always prepared from fresh meat, vegetables and fruit. It wasn’t particularly lavish, but she’s a good cook and made us food that was tasty, filling and healthy. She’s never been afraid to try new things, and I have realised in adulthood that we were introduced to curry, pizza, chilli and lasagne a good five years earlier than most families of similar social background. She just loves discovering what you can do with food to give pleasure.

My sisters, my Grandma and me
Mum inherited her gift from my Grandma, who was an expert baker. Grandma was the middle child of eleven, so needed to be useful! It’s been said that her courtship of my Granddad amounted to baking pies on a Friday night while he went for a pint with her brother. When my Mum first brought my Dad home, the chief virtue that recommended him to Grandma was his good appetite. Family gatherings often involve sharing memories of the treats we enjoyed at her house: one cousin talks about cherry pie, another remembers rice pudding; I loved her golden syrup sponge, my sister misses her Chorley cakes, scones and her silky custard tart, “all of it served up with love.” My Godfather once said of Grandma and her daughters that “they make love to you with food.” I’m proud to be an inheritor of that tradition and see it in my sisters and several cousins, too.

It wasn’t just her children my Mum loved to provide for, either. She kept a stash of tinned meats and fish at the back of the cupboard that she could turn into a sandwich supper for the wider family members who regularly visited. This was before phones were common in every household, so arrangements were less easy to make, and close friends and family were not expected to give any notice of a visit. Regardless of who it was or how inconvenient, they were made welcome and provided for. A tin of ham would become sandwiches, a bowl of salad and a plate of cheese and pickles, as if by magic. In my early childhood, guests drank tea more often than not, but wine became more common as tastes changed or – my Mum’s real favourite – a whisky and ginger ale.

My sisters and I brought various friends, and eventually boyfriends, into the home as we grew up. All have been welcomed with the same warmth and generosity. I vividly remember one afternoon around Christmas when my friends came to call with my new-born Goddaughter. They had driven up from London, and Angela couldn’t have been a month old. They weren’t even over the threshold when Mum swooped in to take her from my friend’s arms. Angela was lavished with affection while her exhausted mother was provided with vast quantities of tea, mince pies and cake.

Mum with my grandson
I started cooking for others in my teens, at first for the family, to help out at home. When I left for university, I started inviting friends around to eat, because it simply seemed the most natural way to express friendship. It wouldn’t have crossed my mind to do otherwise. Gradually, as I became a more confident cook, I started to uncover something in me that reminded me of my Mum – that I was taking pleasure myself in the pleasure I was able to give to others. I realised that I, too, was “making love … with food.” What a precious inheritance!

These days, Mum’s less able to entertain the way she used to, but she still loves to receive family and friends at home. She’s also quite happy to be waited on by others, too, and I suppose that’s only right for someone who has spent so much of her life being the one who serves. I’ll be pouring myself a large glass of whisky later with a splash of ginger ale. Long before I was old enough to drink, I learnt to pour this to her liking: ice in the glass first, followed by a generous measure of good blended whisky and about the same amount of Canada Dry. She doesn’t like the taste of saccharine in drinks, and Canada Dry is about the only one that’s sweetened with just sugar.
Cheers, Mum. Have a happy day.

Next time: setting the scene


  1. Paul, I read this at the time you published it first, today it makes an even better read, I had the pleasure of your Grandma and Mum's hospitality, I will be forever grateful that they showed me love xx


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