In the course of a once-in-a-lifetime family reunion for our parents Golden Wedding Anniversary, many well-known and oft-repeated tales, some gospel, many apocryphal, came out of the closet for yet another airing. In light of the fact that many of those present at the celebrations have enjoyed the warmth and hospitality of the ‘Bride & Groom’ over the past fifty years, this seems the right time to air this particular tale – with apologies to my mother, and allowing for a good dose of poetic license…
The first time I invited my One & Only home for Sunday lunch, my mother made lasagna. It was coated in all the right sense of occasion: a family gathering to welcome the latest addition; sharing, caring and hospitality, and a welcoming hand across the cultures. L’Italiano meets the Skippys.
Only, I guess Mum had never made lasagna before, not even a practice run. It was brought proudly out to the table in the garden, that large baking tray smelling quite wonderful. Our mouths moistened in anticipation. The cheese on top had melted perfectly and was just tinged a light golden brown from the grill. And there the fantasy ended.
In those halcyon days of grey bolognaise and over-cooked spaghetti, culinary expertise in foreign cuisine was rare in Anglo-Australian suburbia. Who knew that one was supposed to soaked the dried pasta sheets before laying them on top of the sauce? Not my mother, certainly. The serving spoon rose ceremoniously, and we all waited with baited breath, salivating… and watched it crack through the pasta like a rock through a glass window. We flinched. “Oops, a little dry round the edges,” Mum exclaimed cheerfully, wading bravely on. She lifted a large shard of pasta topped with cheese onto the nearest plate, exposing the sauce beneath. We all peered in, ever optimistic.
While none of us – except my One & Only – was familiar with how a lasagna should look, I think we all knew this wasn’t quite right. Beneath the crust lay a pond of pink juice. In the pond, whole plum tomatoes bobbed gently. It felt suddenly like Halloween. And among the bobbing ‘apples’, tiny kernels of yellow corn ducked and wove across the lake. “Corn?” asked some brave soul cautiously. “O I had half a tin left over in the back of the fridge,” our innovative mother explained brightly. “And the mince?” I hear you wondering. Yes, well. Grey and lumpy, it had sunk in complete ignominy to the bottom of the lake.
Yes, she had followed a recipe, but like too many cookbooks it hadn’t really explained the process clearly. So there was no advice to ‘smash, dice or puree the whole tomatoes,’ or ‘cook the sauce down for a couple of hours till it thickens;’ no useful tips for those of us who didn’t learn to cook by helping our grandmothers in the kitchen, or who grew up in the centuries before Nigella, Jamie and Julia Childs. Like Sleeping Beauty’s fairy godmothers trying to make a birthday cake without magic, my darling mum took each step quite literally. The One & Only was sweet, polite, forgiving, her four children not so much, and Mum’s corn lasagna has gone into the annals of family history as one of her most outstanding efforts.
Yet, while neither Food of the Gods, nor aphrodisiac, it perfectly illustrated the kindness and innate courtesy of both my mother and my future husband. So perhaps a culinary gem – of sorts!
*Adapted from an article written for Chop Soey, Januray 2015, and with thanks to Google Images for the perfect Garfield cartoons!