Another installment in our “There’s No Place Like Home” series, and again I read with tears. Thank you to Amy Robinson, a friend I’ve met online who is a storyteller and writer – and like me, a vicar’s wife (whatever that means!). She bursts with joy and encouragement, and I’ve so enjoyed getting to know her. She contributed a wonderful story to Finding Myself in Britain about the eccentricities and quirks of Knole House, a stately country home near to her boarding school, but alas, the story met the cutting-room floor. Perhaps I could obtain her permission to share it in a deleted-scenes post – she has a wonderful way of transporting you to amazing places through her writing. Which is what she does here, as she invites you to take up your cutlery and join her for a taste of heaven.
Do you know what food they serve at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven? I do, because one night as a teenager, I dreamed I was there. It was one of those vivid and detailed dreams, and heaven was a cross between Narnia and the Royal Albert Hall, with a banqueting table curving around the length of every balcony. When you took your place, at once the food you most wanted to eat appeared, as if the dishes had read your mind.
What was on my plate? Oh, I do feel silly admitting it, but I’ve started now. It was carrots and apples grated together: fresh, sweet and juicy the way my mother makes it. The taste of childhood summers.
Food connects us so instantly to memories and to people, and in a family’s language, meals can take on a symbolic meaning. When my family arrived from France to stay over Christmas, I made fish pie. I can’t quite get it just the same as Aunt Jane’s, even though I add hard boiled eggs and serve it with cloudy apple juice, but it still tastes of welcome: of the sight of Aunt Jane opening her front door and flinging her arms wide, and the warm smell of the pie that she always made ready for our arrival.
Of course, because it was Christmas, I also made Grandmama’s Dundee cake. Apparently I’m the only member of the family who can make it taste exactly like hers did, but this is not due to any secret recipe or deep spiritual connection. It’s because I inherited her cake tin.
My childhood was rooted in several places at once, rather than one ‘home’ which kept changing. We used to say that we worked in London and lived in France, where we spent every available holiday, but they were both ‘home’. And then there was boarding school, where I made my first deep friendships and met my husband. And there was Grandmama’s flat in London and Aunt Jane’s house near the Malverns (still where I want to live one day). All ‘home’ in that I belonged there, and they made up such important parts of me.
Isn’t it strange and wonderful that my children, who will not meet Aunt Jane or Grandmama this side of heaven, will still grow up with the tastes of their foods as part of their own sense of home, of welcome and belonging? They will add their own places and people and foods to pass on to their children too, but I wonder for how many generations the taste of fish pie might mean the first night at home?
A few days after welcoming my family with Aunt Jane’s pie, it was Christmas day and I was at the communion rail. As I stretched out my empty hands to receive, I reflected that we are all spiritual wanderers, longing for home, but here, being handed to me, was the heavenly equivalent of fish pie: the bread and wine, the food that represents welcome and belonging, the meal which Jesus gave to his followers to remember him by. A tiny taste of home.
Amy Robinson is a writer, performance storyteller and ventriloquist, and benefice children’s worker for four Suffolk church communities. She has published three books with Kevin Mayhew, writes scripts and resources for www.GenR8.org and blogs a bit at www.amystoryteller.com. She lives in a rectory with the rector, two children and lots of puppets. You can find her on Twitter at @Ameandme and at Facebook.