The Joys of a Shared Table

“The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.” ~ Michael Pollan

 

If you had asked me to create a memorable meal when I was younger I would have had the cookbooks out in a flash, planning some elaborate and fanciful spectacular.  Menu planning for ‘Spectaculars’ runs in our family. We used to call going to my grandparents for dinner ‘a trip to the Palace’; all of us dressed for dinner, the table set with the best china and crystal, flowers, music, wine, and lovingly prepared food of restaurant quality.  As a child I grew up turning melons into piles of perfect tiny spheres for one of Mum’s ‘Annual Christmas Creations’, or hollowing out endless half loaves to make little toasted bread baskets for prawn salad.

I still love a party, and planning something special, but I’ve come to realise that it’s not just about the food. It’s the experience – the people, the situation, the sharing.

Here are some of my most memorable meals:

Ben and I ran into two charming elderly brothers on the veranda of a tiny country pub in the middle of nowhere.  They were staying in a shack down by the river and suggested a spot a little further along as a good place for us to camp. On a whim I invited them to dinner, and cooked a camp oven roast with all the trimmings, bread and butter pudding and home-made custard.  They brought an empty cereal box full of live yabbies (little freshwater crayfish) as a gift, and entertained us with stories all night. The next morning while we were making breakfast our dog Charlie, who was still a pup, found the box of yabbies and spilled them all over our swag, and then ‘played’ with them. We couldn’t get the stink of yabby guts out of the sheets and had to throw them away.

bush kitchen

On the day that my beloved grandmother Marga (Queen of the ‘Palace’) passed away, my sister, Mother and I sat with her as she took her last breaths.  Afterwards my sister and I went for a walk and ended up in the courtyard of a little cafe in New Farm, where we ordered a very late lunch of ginger-beer, toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches and hot drinks.  We sat in the sunshine on this glorious Brisbane afternoon, not really talking, just sharing space and taking comfort in each other. The waitresses were so kind, and brought us tissues when we both kept eating with tears sliding down our cheeks.

toasties

The best hot chocolate of my life was at a little outdoor cafe in the medieval city of Gubbio in Italy. I was travelling with my husband and some friends but had taken time out to sit on my own and write. Was I alone though? No! I was sitting on the terrace with Gubbio laid out before me, surrounded by flirty Italian waiters, while the shopkeepers called greetings to me.  That hot chocolate was sublime, but it was also flavoured with the romance of that ancient city.

gubbio square

During a trip through the centre of Australia a few years back, we got flooded in on a remote stretch of road with several other motorists.  We all camped on the road, glued to the radio for the weather and road updates, and pooled what food and drink we had with.  Dinner was an interesting affair of chips, chocolate, lollies, sweet biscuits, sausages in bread, baked beans and instant noodles, washed down with beers and cups of tea sweetened with condensed milk. Our dining area was a huddle of folding chairs and eskies under rigged-up tarps in the pouring rain. It was cold and wet, but we had a lot of fun and met some interesting people!

central-arnhem-road-650Last year I took my good friend, Carly-Jay Metcalfe to visit one of our neighbours. Gordon’s an old farmer with many a story to tell, and he’s dad to another very good friend, Shannon.  Our farms are opposite each other, separated by a river which is low enough to cross over in our gumboots at the shallowest section, if it hasn’t been raining.  We came bearing home-made scones, jam and whipped cream, and Gordon made us a pot of tea that any CWA stalwart would have been proud of – Gordon’s tea is a bracing brew.  All afternoon we sat in his humble kitchen, laughing and sharing tales.  The food was fresh but not fancy, and there was not a tiara in sight. But it was one of the best afternoons on record.

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When I look back, my most treasured food memories aren’t really about the food at all. A meal can be a main event, but what makes the occasion memorable for me is the joy of a shared table.

What’s your most memorable meal?

22 thoughts on “The Joys of a Shared Table

  1. The early 199os in a very small Thai restaurant that seated 10 in NYC: Friday evenings for the early bird special with my friends. The food was outrageously good but even better was the comradeship and friendship that was shared on those evenings.
    Nowadays any evening meal with the entire family present eating leisurely (as opposed to rushing off to a soccer practice or some other event) is special.
    And I love that you have quoted on of my favorite authors- Michael Pollan 🙂 !!
    xx

  2. Oh Nicole, thank you. What beautiful memories came flooding back as I read your blog.

    I’ve dined in some very elegant restaurants but I my favourite meals, like yours, are those shared with wonderful people which included great conversation, love and connection.

    I remember, as a young girl, sitting around the kitchen tables of both my grandmothers and enjoying meals. My mother’s mother would serve spaghetti with salad – she makes the best salad dressing that people would fight to drink any remaining in the bowl (I kid you not). There would be at least twelve of us squashed around the table enjoying a simple meal prepared with love. There was always a fabulous old fashioned desert such as bread and butter pudding, sweet dumplings or apricot pie and ice cream. I remember too she would have jam, bread and butter on the table for those not filled to overflowing by the meal.

    My father’s mother used to make the best braised steak and vegetables. I loved that meal. She grew her own peaches so stewed peaches and ice cream always followed. Probably my favourite meal with her was breakfast. It included strong tea with toast, jam and cream cheese spread. I’d give anything to share that meal with her today.

    Such wonderful memories. Thank you.

  3. Last night we sat down to eat with our family, my stepson and our grandsons who we hadn’t seen for 2 years, his half brother (from his mother) and girlfriend. My two daughters and a partner and my two grandchildren. My husband and I sat at the table with the children, there was laughing and laughing and lot’s of noise……after dinner the adults sat on the verandah, talking and talking…..the kids ran with the dog around the house ……I could not have been happier!

  4. Funny you should ask! And yes, it wasn’t about the food at all. Today, the most memorable is dinner last night with my Dad & my younger daughter. They hadn’t seen each other for 20? years!! We all had a hoot, Sam showed her Pop how to drive his smart phone and posted on her FB it was a precious memory and he said it was the best day of his life. Can’t get better than that 🙂

  5. A barbeque at Lake Ainsworth, Lennox Head with my children and family, it felt so special to be cooking and eating together in such a beautiful and relaxing place.
    The last meal I fed my darling grandmother, I will never forget the love in her eyes as I put each spoonful into her mouth, wow that’s got the tears flowing!
    Many Christrmas lunches/dinners with my large crazy noisy family, even..no especially the one when I was having chemo and couldn’t eat but sat with them and drank in the atmosphere and watching everyone else eat, laugh and interact..I was so grateful just to be there.
    The occasions with family and friends are always most memorable for me, not the food 🙂

  6. awww! i loved this! i feel the exact same way!!!! some of my best memories are just sitting around our small kitchen sharing a good meal and laughs! i don’t comment much on here, but i thoroughly enjoy your posts and hope you’re doing well! 🙂 all the best! ames.

  7. That afternoon at Gordon’s table was such an honour. Such a gentleman and a champion of a man who has lived through it all, and then some. And as always, I loved sharing those wicked scones, laden with jam & cream and Gordon’s brew with you xoxo

  8. Nicole hope u are doing well. Memorable meals….of course would include our large family and my litle nephews\neices and being handed a plate of chicken and salad to sit and eat quietly with the most wonderful salad dressing after we had fed everyone else. Another one was a particularly tense standoff with my own small daughter (not so small now) and a bowel of spuds. My determination to gently but firmly encourage her to eat just one spoonful and her utter and absoloute refusal to unclench her determined lips long enough to allow me coax her to let a smidge of spud enter her mouth….Had I lost that battle would have lost the mother daughter parentihg war and she wasnt even 2 (strongwilled or what)……. and finally my mothers minced beef,gravy and veg with rice after school in the 70’s when for some reason the price and availability of spuds meant they were available but became very epensive one year…my mother could always make something out of nothing….at that time there was a spud shortage..talk of an European Union butter mountain and petrol shortages…what a totally different time..but mother always had a piping hot lovely meal as we all clattered in from school dumping school bags and flinging off school coats in all different directions.xxx

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