Does memory have a taste? Anyone who’s tried to make their favourite family dishes without a recipe will tell you it does – as distinctive as smell, touch and feel. That’s why when you eat food “like grandma used to make”, it instantly transports you back to another time and place.
And somehow those tastes from childhood seem the best, with each family believing, no, actually knowing, that their grandmother made the best plum pudding, the best chopped liver, the best congee…
Across all cultures the familiar taste of home sings out to us, bringing with it family memories, a sense of belonging and most importantly love.
I’m a journalist, and a Middle East correspondent, a lot of my time is spent on the frontline covering wars, but I’ve begun working on a new project collecting the life stories and the recipes of Jewish women who were alive during World War Two.
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I’ve filmed three wonderful women, now in their 80’s and 90’s, in their kitchens with their grandchildren for the ABC’s Compass programme.
They share recipes for the food they grew up with in Europe, and stories of surviving genocide and arriving here as refugees, teaching their grandchildren to love the tastes of the past.
Eva Grinston, Lena Goldstein and Rita Ross are remarkable women, who have seen evil – maybe even the heart of darkness – when they were growing up in the Nazi era during World War Two.
Their stories are spell-binding, at times horrifying and also inspiring.
All three are fabulous cooks, and all chose to bake cakes for our cameras, sweet dishes to accompany sad stories.
When a matriarch’s experience is so bitter does she pass on fear and trauma, or a stubborn survival instinct along with her cooking secrets? Both generations speak frankly about their unbreakable bond.
I’ve been searching for that taste of memory ever since my own beloved grandmother Lea died more than 20 years ago, without me having written down any of her recipes.
That’s something I’ve never forgiven myself for, because when I was growing up in Sydney, it was her kitchen that was the centre of my family life.