July 26, 2006
I have finally got round to typing up my own personal memory of my sister.
It is hard to pick from the overwhelming amount of images and thoughts that come to me when I think about Charlotte. However, when I cast my mind back across a lifetime of memories with my sister, I seem to recall food and cooking most clearly.
When I was in Africa with Charlotte, we whiled away endless bus and train rides talking about what we would cook if we could make anything in the world. We discussed recipes, planned menus and tortured ourselves with visions of delicious meals, even though we knew that it would most likely be rice and beans again for us that day. We talked about how when she returned to London we would alternate between our houses for Sunday lunch, and planned many months of menus in preparation.
My memories of visits to her various flats while she was a student are punctuated by memories of delicious smells, steamy kitchens as she drained giant pans of pasta and morning breakfasts of bacon sandwiches.
I loved her devotion to cooking from scratch – how the sound of her chopping vegetables late at night had caused her neighbours to complain. Despite working long hours to get her PhD, she still insisted on preparing herself a proper meal when she got home.
I was in awe of the fact that she owned a binder of her favourite recipes in wipe clean pouches and alphabetical order. I marvelled at her ability to produce entire Indian meals across the course of a day, complete with multiple vegetable accompaniments. One of the most thoughtful gifts that she ever gave me was a shoebox containing all the spices I needed to make my favourite curry, and a handwritten copy of the recipe.
I remember sitting on the tube many years ago on our way to see a play. Charlotte had whipped up a delicious dish of pasta with pesto, bacon and mushrooms. We were eating it on the train to save time, and the delicious aroma wafting from the plastic box prompted some Italian tourists to ask Charlotte if she was from their native country. She replied, in Italian, that she had been born there, but had left when she was “piccolo”. She was enormously pleased, of course, that the smell of her cooking had led them to that conclusion.
A couple of years ago, my mother gave me an apron that belonged to my sister. Should I want it, I could probably also take the recipe binder that I used to envy. Sometimes I feel that I miss my sister most when I am in my kitchen, tying the bow on the apron and wondering how many times her hands – a more slender version of my own, tied the same bow before me.