Try to find a metaphor for the way your house smells on the rare occasion when you bake muffins or make a stew from scratch—let’s call those elusive items Home Food. It smells like a 1940s farmhouse, you might say. Nope. The dominant note there would have been the vinegar, used twice a day to wipe down the counters, and wet canvas—possibly with a tinge of manure—wafting in from the mudroom. How about a medieval feast hall? Smoke, roast boar, and body odor. Cafeteria? Soup kitchen? I don’t think so.
We lack not only the time but the imagination to make Home Food a daily reality. Those of us who work from home know the dangers of planning to pop a chicken in the oven around 3pm. Between the browning, basting, and rotating; the washing and chopping of the leeks you were going to add halfway through; and the disconnecting of the smoke alarm when the crisping skin spits too much grease onto the element, your whole afternoon is shot. And the crock pot? Chowder does not respond well to languishing on low for 2 extra hours just because you had a late meeting and Son #1 has basketball practice.
My neighbor Alexa runs a Waldorf-inspired daycare out of her house, and Waldorf mandates Home Food. Her musician husband gets up at 7am to bake bread and make the soup for lunch. At the playground Alexa unknots a bandanna to reveal a moist, fragrant banana-date loaf, which she breaks into pieces for the tots. Her five-year-old daughter knows how to shell the organic peas and knead the dough. It’s all vegan, and it’s all local—heck, the toddlers picked the mulberries for the crumble on their walk in the back laneway.
The most surreal part is watching how my own children get caught up in the Home Food magic at Alexa’s house. I’ve watched Son #1 (he of the Pop-Tart petition, he of the mysterious Cheez Stringz wrappers coming home in a lunch I did not pack) perch on the vintage wooden stool at her counter and devour handfuls of oven-roasted chick peas. Son #2 (he of the invective against “mushy things,” he of the grapes-but-never-raisins caprice) greedily forks up another zucchini pickle from the mason jar.
Is this what Home Food takes, then? Everyone staying home? Hanging around harvesting, cooking, and eating together?
Once, after a playdate, I was so jealous that I phoned my mom for the recipe for Boiled Raisin Cake. I didn’t even know that was its name; it took me ten minutes to describe the after-school snack I vaguely remembered from my primary-school years. An hour later, though, the main floor of my house filled with the heady nutmeg-and-cinnamon perfume that used to embrace me along with my mother’s hug at the door. I’d nabbed it: Home Food! And for the record, Son #2 ate three fat pieces of the cake, smacking his lips delightedly over the syrupy raisins (HAH!) and the butter melting onto the plate.
I realized then that it’s memory, mainly, this Home Food elixir we yearn for. Pure nostalgia. But I was proud to have found a quick-fix version of it in this vintage recipe. Even if the rest of the time Alexa’s house smells like home and mine smells like Kentucky Fried.