Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Aunty Sylvie's Sponge: Foodmaking, Cookbooks and Nostalgia

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Aunty Sylvie's Sponge: Foodmaking, Cookbooks and Nostalgia

Article excerpt

Why does foodmaking matter? Largely because it holds within it so much of everyday life, thought and activity across time, place and generation. This article explores women's embodied foodmaking knowledge as 'thoughtful practice' with a pinch of 'anxious practice'.1 It begins with a brief biography of my Aunty Sylvie and my mother, and then relates a story that illustrates intergenerational recipe sharing and baking knowledge. In doing so it examines cookbooks as a form of nostalgia and explores aspects of gustatory nostalgia in the creation of 'manuscript' cookbooks and their variation in the twenty-first century. It also reconstructs, in part, the history of a family-of sisters, aunts, grandmothers, mothers, daughters-told through cookbooks and, in particular, a recipe for sponge cake. In using a particular recipe I seek to produce a nuanced argument that illustrates the complexity of intergenerational recipe sharing via the triangulation of aunt, mother, daughter. It also shows the acquisition of a 'thoughtful practice' intertwined with 'anxious practice' across the generations.

My grandmothers were bakers of bread and of cakes. My mother and my aunts are bakers. I bake occasionally. This (mostly) matrilineal and intergenerational baking is one that holds the women of my family together. Many recipes have been shared over the years between my mother and her sisters and with her mother and mother-in-law. I have also slowly begun to write down my mother's recipes. She has homemade cookbooks filled with recipes cut from newspapers and magazines and many written in her own handwriting. I have one of my grandmother's manuscript recipe books-the recipes are written in my grandmother's handwriting as well as the script of my mother, the next door neighbour, friends and even my own 12-year old's printing, each letter separate and clear. In 2010 my Aunty Sylvie self-published a cookbook, A Lifetime of Cooking: Compiled with love by Sylvia Harris for all her family to enjoy. It contained a number of her recipes, photos and memoir snapshots-a giftto her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.2 It was also a giftto her sisters, one of whom is my mother. My mother features prominently in the cookbook as a baker and a sister, in recipes and photos-they have shared a life of cooking together. Cooking is one of the strengths of the women in my family. It represents solidarity, the continuity of family across time and place.

My cooking apprenticeship began when I was four or five, maybe earlier. I watched my mother baking cakes and slices, but my earliest memories are of my paternal grandmother baking bread and Anzac biscuits.3 I sat on a stool or the bench and watched. At that age I was able to stir the flour with the bicarbonate soda and baking powder, an easy job. If a cake or slice was being made I would have been able to lick the bowl. As I got older I was able to break eggs into the mixture, siftthe flour, cream the butter and sugar and add other more exotic ingredients depending on the cake or slice being made. My mother or grandmother would have been by my side throughout the exercise, guiding my hands, talking to me about the texture of the ingredients, describing what they should feel like and look like: 'the creamed butter and sugar should feel like breadcrumbs', 'when you add the milk to the flour it will have a consistency like glue', 'beat the eggs until they are stiffand stick to the beaters'. This knowledge only comes from doing-knowledge and practice that philosopher Lisa Heldke calls 'thoughtful practice'.4 It is here that subject and object become blurred, they are imbricated and intertwined in particular foodmaking activities; for example, in kneading bread: 'kneading is an essential part of the theoretical-and-practical process of making bread-a part in which subjects' and objects' boundaries necessarily meet, touch and overlap'.5 Such thoughtful practice is implicit to my aunt, my mother and my grandmothers. …

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