When hope seems all but lost, Juliet Speedy finds solace in the kitchen.
When my stepfather was suddenly diagnosed with lung cancer, he lost his appetite. I made him casseroles, lasagnes, stews. He attempted small mouthfuls but couldn’t eat much. Then, one day I made him a lemon posset. He loved the sweet easy texture and requested more. I made chocolate mousse. That too hit the spot. I was happy. I made litres of lemon posset and chocolate mousse over the four weeks of his short illness. I didn’t really know what to say or what else I could do, but I could cook. And cook I did. When my mum received his death certificate it had cause of death: lung cancer and diabetes. He had never had diabetes before. Mum said we certainly hastened his death, but at least he had some tasty puddings before he went.
In cooking we trust. When there is nothing to do, words can be hard-found. When we feel helpless and sad we often cook.
I was mulling over this as I lay on my sofa days after the Christchurch mosque massacres. I had spent many long days covering the event as a reporter for TV3’s Newshub. I had three young children locked down in their primary school for four hours who then needed my explanation about what had happened. I had found interviewing people involved in the tragedy devastating and confronting. I was tired, I was still shocked and I was deeply sad.
My Sydney-based sister called me up and told me she had found great solace on the day of the tragedy making a large batch of fresh scones covered in lashings of butter and jam. I hadn’t known what to do with myself but suddenly I wanted to cook. I rose from the sofa and headed for the kitchen. I made an enormous batch of my children’s favourite muesli. Then I made a cake. Chocolate. I don’t even like chocolate cake but it felt so good to slowly stir it and pour it into the tin. My empty, cold house suddenly filled with the smell of warmth and of comfort. I made a curry for that night’s dinner. In went the edamame beans, the potatoes, the peas, the spinach, the pumpkin. I yearned to fill my family up with vegetables. I roasted a chicken. A different smell – salty, buttery, lemony. I finished cooking and made a cup of tea. I felt better.
I spoke with an ambulance officer who was a first responder on the scene. He said they have had so much baking dropped off that they’re all living off sugar. Hagley Community College where the grieving families went in the immediate aftermath of the shootings was a sea of halal food delivered by strangers.
When there is nothing to say or do, we can cook.