British cookbook author Slater takes an engrossing, revealing look back at his 1960s childhood through the foods that filled his family’s kitchen.
As his popular Observer columns often remind readers, food can do more than fill the stomach; it can touch the soul. Slater’s mother didn't see it that way, though. For her, cooking was no more satisfying than tending to Aunt Fannie’s incontinence. Mum’s burnt toast, soupy rice pudding, and rock-hard Christmas cake were staples at the dinner table, but she tried very hard, “desperate to be a homemaker,” and her son loved her all the more for it. Dad, a gruff, strict, terrifying disciplinarian, was incapable of such devotion. When his mother died of complications from asthma, his father’s eye wandered to Mrs. Potter, the new housekeeper and cook extraordinaire. Slater, approaching his teens, grew angry and lonely. He was also sexually confused: trying on his mother's clothes, enduring Uncle Geoff’s perverted game of Find the Sixpence, and masturbating to the cookery pages of Woman’s World. Eventually, Slater turned to cooking as a respite and a way of competing with Mrs. Potter for his father’s attention. After his father’s death, he attended culinary school and worked at a luxurious château staffed by a bunch of sex-crazed longhairs like himself. While structuring a memoir around foodstuffs might be ham-handed in the hands of lesser food scribes, here it proves to be a perfectly natural way to tell the story. Convincing, engaging, and rich with detail, Slater’s prose lets readers taste the pink marshmallows, smell the freshly baked oat cookies, and feel the crunch of the green beans.
Paced as superbly as a seven-course meal, able to engage the heart and the memory as well as the taste buds.