Experiments on Food and Grief
By Christie Hill
Ellie’s invited me round for dinner. We’re in her dining room eating Main Course. It’s an ice cream with a chocolate rimmed cone. Ellie’s telling me the story about her trip to Mattallan with her Mum, two weeks before she died, and how they’d sat in the car afterwards and shared an ice-cream together, in silence. It’s a heavy memory attached with so much personal emotion. It’s hard to know how to access it, how to begin to understand what that could feel like. I’ll never fully know, but with an ice cream in my hand, licking it and tasting it in silence with Ellie, I can come a little bit closer to what that felt like.
I’m interested in food. For a few years now I’ve been cooking food, mainly as an excuse to get people together. But I’m also interested in the stuff that happens around just eating it. The cooking it, giving it, sharing it, tasting it, performing it, the memories attached to it, and the occasions we build around it. It’s this that Ellie and I are trying to explore for part 6. Food and Grief.
Onto pudding, it’s a summer pudding. It’s December but fuck the seasons, Ellie’s made a summer pudding with summer berries and bright pink sponge! There’s a theme to tonight, we’re having five courses of pudding. Why? Because why not, we can do what the hell we like, we’re grown adults and who’s going to stop us?!! Half way through the summer pudding and I’m feeling nauseous. I love summer pudding, and I’m still giggling that we’re only eating pudding for dinner, but it’s taking its toll on my stomach. And I’m on a sugar come down from the previous 3 courses of sugar. Ellie tells me how a friend of the family gave her a GIANT summer pudding just after her Mum died, and how she ate this for breakfast lunch and dinner for a long while. As I prod the pink sponge, I remember the times I’ve gorged on the bad stuff when I’ve been feeling down. It’s a way for me to rebel, and to bring myself comfort, but subconsciously I think it’s a way of manifesting how shit I feel in my head, to a physical reaction in my stomach. How people navigate their grief through food is complex and absolutely personal. But as I prod at my summer pudding, tummy aching and on a giant sugar crash, I can feel part of what Ellie must have felt eating the stuff for days.
Earlier on that evening, Ellie’s grating lemon zest in the kitchen. This is a chore. I’ve lost skin off my knuckles from graters, and know it’s even more painful when this happens with a lemon involved. Lemon zests aren’t easy to grate, especially when you’re using those really little holes on the grater. It’s a laborious task. After a while we get a little pile of yellow bits that Ellie wipes around the rim of the glass. This is a beautifully created cocktail of a slap in the face. We’ve got a thing for lemons at the moment. It started when Ellie sent me a blog and we learnt about the use of lemons in Switzerland:
“In Switzerland, male mourners would wrap a lemon in a handkerchief and place it into their hat. The hat would be carried under the left arm for the duration of the funeral. At the end of the service, the lemons were placed on the grave to symbolize the "sharpness" of their grief.”*
Since then we’ve been making each other lemon concoctions. Sipping, wincing, “no, add more lemon”, sipping, grimacing, “no, more lemon!”. Tonight Ellie’s made a good one. Lemon rind around the glass, lemon juice, spirit and a giant ball of ice. We’re interested in creating that “sharpness” of grief. This is where food can get really interesting, when it can physically make you feel something. It’s one thing to imagine grief, but when you take a sip of that lemon cocktail, it’s like getting a punch in the jaw. We’ve been talking about similar experiments with raw onion. Ellie brings the drinks in, and tells me we must wait to drink them. I realise later that we’re waiting for the giant ball of ice to melt. Slowly slowly time passes until suddenly it’s gone. We drink and it cuts through the food and the thoughts we’ve had. It hurts, and it’s perfect.
At the bottom of my glass is a tiny bottle, filled with Himalayan rock salt. It’s known for it’s healing properties, and a few days later I have a bath and add the salts. It’s a beautiful surprise and a gift. What I thought was just a drink was also Ellie researching tiny bottles, buying a tiny bottle, finding rock salt, finding a way of getting the rock salt into the bottle, finding a way of hiding it in ball of ice (apparently raspberries don’t have the same effect hidden inside balls of ice, they look like period), practising it, re-doing it, waiting for my reaction. Then I think about the four other courses of food that Ellie’s thought about, bought ingredients for, practiced, cooked. I can’t think of many other things that we spend so much time working on, and that we give away so generously as food.
We’ll continue experimenting with food. We’re interested in foods from the earth, preserving food to take on a journey, and the ceremonies around food. My next job is trying to trap the smell of food in a bottle.