“Yes, we grow up and become independent eaters with the agency to choose what food we will and won’t eat, but those early meals — the ones you had time and again, the ones that smell and taste like home — remain with you forever.”
Mina Holland’s Mamma; reflections on the food that makes us is a homage to home cooking and an exploration of food as a clue to identity.
Ostensibly it’s structured around the accounts of eight meetings with culinary heroes — the likes of Claudia Roden, Alice Waters, Anna del Conte, Yotam Ottolenghi.
Really, though, Mina’s audience with those people, and their thoughts about the food that makes them, punctuate her own personal philosophical and practical approach to the subject.
So we join Mina in sharing arancini with Stanley Tucci’s mum around the time she comments on the benefits of basing today’s meal on yesterday’s leftovers (the arancini were once risotto). And we share an enviable moment drinking sherry and wine with the great Anna del Conte, just after Mina has written on the influence of women in her cooking.
Thank goodness that’s the case. If it was merely a collection of interviews, we would miss the central narrative of the author’s own eating habits, the pondering of why she eats as she does whilst others are happy with breaded chicken (and that neither way is wrong). It’s an engaging read, nostalgic but not soppy. A masterfully scripted page turner that’ll have you smiling and nodding throughout.
The book strolls through Mina’s food palette and palate as she considered the importance of seasoning, the benefits of improvisation, the joy of communal eating. And there are recipes too, based on the tenets of her own cooking habits: eggs, potatoes, pasta, yoghurt, vegetables, pulses, and spices and herbs.
You get the impression that Mina, an editor of the Guardian’s Cook supplement, might’ve preferred to leave out the recipes; she’s regularly self-deprecating (“bland” rather than “wacky“) and reluctantly prescribes quantities and method when she would prefer to leave things to intuition — to “guidelines rather than rules“.
Yet there’s plenty in there to tempt, or (more along Mina’s own way of cooking) at least to inspire you to cook something similar. I’ve been prompted, for example, to make pasta with Marmite (credited to del Conte); and spiced fish and beans, inspired by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer’s hake in ‘fake’ matbuha sauce. And I’m absolutely, probably, maybe, one day going to serve up Catalan mess – crema catalana and meringue, including the suggested additions of poached quince, toasted hazelnut, and some saffron water.
I’ve had the book for about a month now, and held back commenting on it until I’d read it from cover to cover. Indeed, this is a book take the time to properly peruse; and its been a pleasure to sit down and do so.
Mamma feels like a rather pleasing indulgence — both on the part of Mina and her publishers for publishing, like, actual prose; but also, for us to escape into. At a time when most cookery books contain 101 FAST AND EASY RECIPES, and the immediate yet extraordinarily time sucking dopamine hit of social media is all encompassing, this offers welcome and considered reflection.
Format and design
300 pager, no illustrations, timeless bit of food writing / memoir.
Recipes that tempt
This isn’t a cookbook in the normal sense, though there are recipes in here and plenty of them appeal — from green beans, coconut oil, peanuts and curry leaves, to the aforementioned Catalan mess. There’s guidance on eggs, herbs, pulses and other staples, and multiple ideas, prompts and musings covering an eclectic range of cuisines.
Who is it for?
Readers. Thinkers. People who enjoy food and, in particular, food based prose.