Mother’s Day Food Memories


This Sunday will be my first Mother’s Day without my mother. Since her death last June, memories have been bubbling up to the surface, and I’ve found it interesting to observe just how many of these reminiscences involve food.


My mother was born in England in 1937, so for her entire childhood, some degree of rationing was in effect, both at home and at the boarding schools she attended. This shaped the way she thought about food for much of her life. The most noticeable repercussions of this formative experience with food were an extreme dread of any waste and a seemingly arbitrary rule about no two items in the same category (other than vegetables) together on a plate. For example, if potatoes were served there could be no other ‘starch’, such as bread or pasta on offer. If dinner involved a sauce, then butter on the table was unnecessary. My siblings and I would endlessly mock these rules, though we would never flout them in her presence. At my mother’s table, we ate what we were given and said thank-you. We had to try everything that was served but were permitted to request a small helping if it something truly could not stomach (in my case, her boiled spinach.)


Despite the strictness in some areas of eating, my mother did her best to accommodate specific tastes or needs. When one of my sisters came home from university announcing she was now a vegetarian, Mum found a copy of the Moosewood Cookbook and decided that vegetable tomato sauce tasted better than meat sauce anyway. When my father was told he had to watch his cholesterol, Anne Lindsay’s heart-friendly cookbooks piled up on the kitchen counter. With the exception of the odd rotisserie chicken, meals were always home cooked, and dessert was usually fruit, though we all loved her special occasion desserts – coffee mallow, baked lemon pudding or crème caramel, served on the cobalt blue plates that were reserved for fancy sweets.


My mother was known for her lunch spreads. She would stock fresh rolls and good cheese, cold cuts, olives, crisp lettuce and her favourite – watercress. She was unapologetic about her love of strong mustards and blue cheese, marmite and anchovy paste.  She grew her own herbs and would send me out to the garden in the summer to get a few sprigs of whichever ones she needed that night.


My mother didn’t always have a sweet tooth, but she did always keep a roll of LifeSavers in her purse for emergencies. In summer, she made us popsicles with chocolate pudding or peach yogurt, handing them to us out the kitchen window so we wouldn’t have to interrupt our play to come inside. She taught me never to order something in a restaurant that I could make for myself at home and she never made anything that she herself didn’t like to eat, like meatloaf or custard. She liked to bring home a new fruit that the grocery store was carrying, like a prickly pear or a star fruit, and get everyone to try a piece. She showed me how to make the flakiest pastry, rubbing the lard into the flour with her fingers, but she also loved to buy an assortment of fancy pastries at a high-end bakery and carefully cut them into quarters so that everyone could try a little bit of each and declare which was their personal favourite.


I think my mother knew instinctively that food could be the vehicle for some of the happiest memories. Over the years her residual wartime austerity around food mellowed, and on her last visit here in 2011 she refused to let her lack of mobility, deafness, declining eyesight, or anything else limit her experiences. She enjoyed treating everyone to lunches at Murchies,  pizza at PrimaStrada, fish and chips in her hotel room and tea at the Empress. I can still see her presiding over a birthday dinner for my sister at the Black Olive, sitting at the end of the long table, peering over the menu with her little flashlight, then loudly placing her order first – the most expensive item on the menu, she told me later, “so that everyone would feel comfortable ordering whatever they most wanted”.


This Mother’s Day I’m sure I will spend time thinking about some of the memories I made with my mum. But then I’ll go make some new ones with my own children. I know it’s what she would want.



Written By:

Rebecca Baugniet is a freelance food writer and editor living on Canada’s West Coast with her husband and their four children. The author of three published cookbooks, Rebecca has also written for EAT Magazine and for Montréal ...

Comments are closed.