Goodwill and happy companionship. And saying thank-you to the chicken.

I meant to take a photo of the roast chicken and vegetables last night but Tony and I were so pleased to be having dinner together that we ploughed on with the carving and serving and talking and it was only when my plate was a smear of jus and breadcrumbs that I remembered.

Tony’s been on a post-guest diet so we haven’t sat down to eat together properly for a little while. We’ve also been fractious with one another, partly due to the wilting humidity when we arrived back in the south of France last week and partly due to the drawn out uncertainty of the house sale as our buyer’s English solicitor requests official attestations for even the air we breathe!

Bread and cheese
Perhaps if we had been sharing a meal each night the fractiousness could have been avoided because mealtimes are the moments when we reconnect. They don’t have to be grand affairs; often they are as simple as bread and cheese. But they are essential to how we act and react healthily with each other and I’ve noticed, over the past 26 years, that any prolonged period of not regularly eating with each other tends to produce a sense of disconnection.

Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale. Elsa Schiaparelli

When I was young mealtimes did not always involve the whole family. Dad worked shifts at the Steelworks - nights (10 to 6), mornings (6 to 2) or afternoons (2 to 10) - so the five of us only tended to sit down together on his Sundays off. I remember roast chicken and sage and onion stuffing or a topside of beef and yorkshire puddings. Trifle with slices of jam swiss roll set into the strawberry jelly, a layer of yellow Bird’s Custard, topped with tinned Nestle’s cream and sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. There’s not a lot of tinned food I prefer to the fresh equivalent but Nestle’s (pronounced, of course, nestle to rhyme with trestle, and never nestlĂ©) tinned cream still does it for me.

A meal is about civilizing children. It's about teaching them to be a member of their culture, says Robin Fox, the anthropologist. He also talks about the ceremony attached to eating and how the contemporary ease of obtaining food, and the advent of fast food in particular, has resulted in it losing its significance for us:

It's like the American Indians. When they killed a deer, they said a prayer over it," says Fox. "That is civilization. It is an act of politeness over food. Fast food has killed this. We have reduced eating to sitting alone and shoveling it in. There is no ceremony in it. Read more.

Ceremony. Unfortunately, the word’s root in the Latin caerimonia (religious worship) doesn’t do it any favours. It evokes a formality and solemnity I don’t associate with the joy of eating with family and friends.

Tony tells the story of attending a Showman’s Guild Ball at Grovesnor House in London when he was 18. He was dating the then President’s daughter and was completely unprepared for the formality of the evening: the Master of Ceremonies, the endless courses and the array of required cutlery fanning out across the white linen tablecloth in front of him. But not being a person to admit defeat, he decided to pick up and use whatever seemed appropriate as each course arrived and felt he was doing quite well until it came to dessert and he ended up eating his Peach Melba with a soup spoon and a fish knife.

So if it’s not ceremony that I want and need in shared meals, what is it? I like Elsa Schiaparelli’s ‘goodwill and happy companionship’. And I feel lucky to have shared, and continue to share, my meals with people who are full of goodwill and companionship and for whom food is also a guest at the table.

Iwan walking with his shadow
My great-nephew, Iwan, who is three and a half, recently made a return visit to a family holiday flat in Freshwater East, West Wales.

‘Flat, I have missed you,’ he said to the air and walls when he walked in.

I think that’s the kind of simple and honest ceremony I want to have at meals.

Chicken, you were delicious, so crispy-skinned and tender-fleshed. Thank you.

Hungry Writing Prompts
  1. Write about forgetting.
  2. Write about a connection that becomes a disconnection.
  3. Write about your father’s work.
  4. Write about a formal event or occasion.
  5. Write about saying, ‘Thank you’.

Comments

  1. I have the same experience with meals being moments to re-connect with my husband and family. I don't like overly formal affairs, but your great-nephew's 'ceremony' is the kind of thing I appreciate at the table. And good food, of course. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  2. manuela16:48

    I really enjoy reading this as mealtime with the family is very important for me. Not always easy to have your brother ready to have food with us but the kids and I are doing our best to have him sitting with us and have some nice time together. Of course the food is important but that's not all.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sarah Richards10:40

    We don't eat together very often as Meirion works full time during the week. Even on weekends it can prove a challenge. You are right though Manuela its important.

    The last day of the summer holidays I asked Ffion what she wanted to do 'cook chicken and prunes and eat at the table altogether'was her reply. It turned out to be one of the nicest afternoons. Helped by the fact Iwan & Ffion were enjoying their meal.

    When I think back over the summer holidays the nicest times involved sitting down together to enjoy a meal. Whether it was sausages on the bbq, Gran, Gu, Mammy & you all coming to Freshwater and huddling round the small table to eat roast chicken, or Meirion & I enjoying fillet steak and a glass of red wine (Ffion & Iwan were in bed).

    So I will try harder to sit at the table as a family more often its worth the effort!

    Looking forward to you coming home and enjoying another meal together. Sarah xxxx

    ReplyDelete
  4. Lynne -

    I did not intend for this comment to be so long- feel free to remove into your own personal files.

    I have learned so much from your blog- I am only sad that I came late in your 52 week endeavor. Will you continue? This has been a year of paying attention (starting with small stones over at WOWH with Fiona)I found myself curious if I can let go my fear of the kitchen (you read that right). I prepared meals for my children with ease - maybe not a lot of creativity but they were nutritious and fun times. Once the children left home my latent fear of the kitchen took hold. My husband who loves to cook has filled the gap.

    I remember thankfulness before a meal was always the intent before our meals growing up the oldest of six children. But sadly the rote prayer was often said with tones of bland and blank hearts. Other times it had the flavor of an over salted stew that was about to boil over in anger. It has taken me a long time to remove those feelings from cooking, eating and the kitchen in general. At age 51 I am beginning to embrace the kitchen - but mostly when my husband is away. In fact just last week I made an adventure into canning- http://terihoover-crystal-iris-images.blogspot.com/2011/09/it-all-started-because.html

    Thanks for this thoughtful post about simply being and remembering to be connected. xo teri

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks to you all so much - Brigita, Manuela, Sarah and Teri - for your comments. It's so rewarding to know that these words have risen beyond my experience and entered other people's worlds.

    Teri - canning is something I have never thought of (apart from the odd jam or chutney) so I'm now zipping across to your blog to take a look!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to share your response.