I’ve written before about where my love of food came from but to celebrate International Women’s Day 2019, I’d love to explore one person in a bit more depth. My mum, Jan Maloney, was a tour de force. A real, wild women. She had such a big personality and she was always unmistakably true to herself. She was a writer, a teacher, a poet and performer. Her tales and my tales about her often include details of eating or food. She met my father while squatting in Clapham in the 70s. He was staying in an abandoned Italian restaurant so they feasted on the pasta that was left there. When we were growing up every visit to our Grandparents included the promise of an exciting London restaurant and something new to try. We were always encouraged to taste, the only way to check if you like something after all. Yorkshire tea drips in our blood, every tall tale starts with sitting at a kitchen table with a cuppa and the ensuing laughter. Her glamorous birthday parties, where I was tasked with salting or sugaring the rims of cocktail glasses and the glorious taste of sweet sugary cherries. Trips to Manchester for community events and delicious barfi sweets handed over with a look of expectant joy.
When I was older, trips to visit her in London always included a visit to the cheap and cheerful Italian Pollo on Old Compton Street or cake and coffee at Maison Bertaux on Greek Street or if we were very lucky, a feast at her friend Tenebris’ home. Here, I first tasted Green Chartreuse and experienced the childlike joy of serving jelly and custard or sweets after a luscious, decadent dinner. Later on, Christmas Day especially, she always included extra people at the table and while sharing of stories about traditions from home we shared our food and wine with love.
From her, I learnt to ‘magic’ something amazing from a seemingly ‘empty’ cupboard. I learnt that to feel like you belong can sometimes just mean sharing a cuppa and a slice of a homemade something; laughter will always follow. From her, I learnt that food may not always be plentiful but you build your tribe around you by sharing with joy.
17/08/52 – 07/07/08
And Jan, I will always remember to brew my coffee strong enough for you to enjoy too.