13 December 2022

Years turning

Posted by Terry Glover

Something in the body knows that it’s the end of the year. There’s a physical weariness, a sense of winding down. Our biology has evolved to respond to these seasonal rhythms, and our oldest myths and legends reflect the cycle as well. December is the time when Persephone, the embodiment of renewal and verdant plant life, must go to the underworld and let the world lie barren. It’s a time of death and rebirth; though for many these weeks are filled with celebration and festivity, there’s a shadow side. I often imagine this passage of time between December and January as a cave or tunnel: a birth canal of sorts. Personally, I enjoy the feeling of these dark, narrow days, and the special intensity they bring. The lights that shine out from the windows, the joy of company, the space for solitude and reflection. It’s a lovely lull, a liminal space, a time to rest and make room for what is going to grow.

My favourite thing to do over these lazy, low-key weeks is to curl up in a comfortable spot and slowly make my way through my recipe book reading list. The books that are calling to me at the moment all have to do with how food can act as a journey home. Motherland by Melissa Thompson traces 500 years of Jamaican history through recipes for some of the island’s most beloved dishes. Spice: A Cook’s Companion by Mark Diacono dives deep into the provenance and practical use of over 50 different kitchen spices. The Korean Vegan by Joanne Lee Molinaro is a love-letter to the author’s parents, who left North Korea as refugees; while Parsi, From Persia to Bombay: recipes & tales from the ancient culture by Farokh Talati sees the author embark on a personal voyage to discover how Parsi culture has been safeguarded and celebrated through centuries of meals.

This is deep and discerning storytelling, full of the romance, desperation and hope that certain recipes are capable of containing. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a simple, practical recipe guide, but I also love getting carried away by a good yarn. I’m endlessly curious about ingredients and cooking techniques from different communities, and learning about the history behind these flavours only enriches my appreciation of them. There’s something passionate and moving about these intergenerational stories of traditions preserved, lost, combined and adapted, and the food that has arisen out of this. Reading these books fulfills my desire to reconnect with the ancestors, which is particularly strong at this point of the wheel of the year.

Perhaps that’s partly because this is one of the moments when we tend to come together to cook in unison. The dishes that we make might be those that we remember from our own childhood, or perhaps we get to share in the childhood memory of someone else by eating what they have cooked for us. Recipes passed down from grandmas and aunties, or passed on from friends and chosen family; recipes that we have adapted beyond recognition but that continue to form part of the thread of living memory. This is the magic of this darkest point of the year. Now is the moment to raise a toast and wish the year off, before we’re born into the next. 

Books mentioned in this blog post