The first time I invited my boyfriend home for Sunday lunch, my mother made lasagna. It was coated in all the right sense of occasion: a family gathering, hospitality, sharing, welcoming, reaching out a hand across the cultures. E. meets the Skippys.
Only, I guess she had never made lasagna before. Not even a practice run. It was brought proudly out to the table in the garden, that large baking tray smelling wonderful and making our mouths moisten in anticipation. The cheese on top had melted beautifully and was just tinged with golden brown from the grill. The spoon dipped in and we all waited with bated breath, salivating. Such optimism. Every time.
And there the fantasy ended.
In those days, one soaked the dried pasta sheets before laying them on the sauce. Mum didn’t know this. The spoon cracked the pasta like a rock through a glass window. We flinched. “Oops, a little dry round the edges,” she exclaimed, wading bravely on. She lifted a large shard of pasta topped with cheese onto the nearest plate, exposing the sauce beneath. We all peered in hopefully. (Ever optimistic. Did we never learn?) While none of us – except E. – were familiar with how a lasagna should look, I somehow think we all knew this wasn’t quite as it should be. Beneath the crust lay a pond of pink juice. In the pond, whole plum tomatoes bobbed gently. It felt suddenly like Halloween. And amongst the bobbing apples, tiny kernels of yellow corn ducked and wove across the lake. “Corn?” asked some brave soul cautiously. “O I had half a tin in the back of the fridge,” our innovative mother explained brightly. “And the mince?” I hear you wondering. Yes, well. Grey and lumpy, it had sunk in complete ignominy to the bottom of the lake.
Yes, she had followed a recipe, but like too many cookbooks it didn’t really explain the process. So there was no advice to ‘smash, dice or puree the whole tomatoes,’ or ‘cook the sauce down for a couple of hours till it thickens;’ no useful tips for those of us that didn’t learn to cook by helping our grandmothers in the kitchen, or who grew up in the centuries before Nigella, Jamie, and Julia Childs. Like Sleeping Beauty’s fairy godmothers trying to make a birthday cake without magic, my darling mum took each step quite literally and with little imagination. E. was sweet, polite, forgiving. Her four children not so much, and Mum’s corn lasagna has gone into the annals of family history as one of her most outstanding efforts. Food for the gods or aphrodisiac it may not have been, but it did illustrate the kindness and innate courtesy of my future husband, so perhaps a culinary gem of sorts.
Written by Alex Gregori
Illustration By Djinn Tallada