Love is… a bowl of macaroni cheese

PUBLISHED: 13:34 13 July 2009 | UPDATED: 15:30 20 February 2013

Melissa

Melissa

Melissa Rees runs Milly's Menus, a bespoke catering company based in Woolston, near Church Stretton. She will be sharing her menus and recipes in future issues. Here she explains how her life-long romance with good food began

Love is... a bowl of macaroni cheese

Melissa Rees runs Milly's Menus, a bespoke catering company based in Woolston, near Church Stretton. She will be sharing her menus and recipes in future issues. Here she explains how her life-long romance with good food began

When I was about 11 I discovered that romantic novels often had sex in them. Sometimes the writing quality was what you might call vacuous but happily words with even a very tenuous link to the 'act' would leap out of even the lengthiest paragraph and it was as much as I could do to bother with the bits in between.
Thirty years and four children later have broadened my interests and I haven't read a novel containing the phrase 'with a brutal urgency' for nearly all that time. Now I'm most likely to perk right up if the authors let their characters talk about what they are eating. Foodie details add so much when well-written. Smells and sounds are wonderful tools for an author. But nothing beats the power of taste buds for instant reaction or a trip down memory lane.
Take the mention of macaroni cheese for example. A humble and underused literary device I expect you'll agree. Nevertheless, for me, the memories conjured up by these two words are ambrosial thanks to Karen Rout's mum.
When I was seven I went for my first sleepover and I have no difficulty in transporting myself back to the happy moment when my friend's lovely mother spooned great gloops of this new delight into my brown earthenware bowl. It was crispy, steaming, and perfect and the face I looked up into to ask for more became the beatific image of an angel
Sadly this deliciously cheesy moment was never to be repeated.
"Why do we never have macaroni cheese at home?" I asked my mother as soon as I got back into her Simca. Years later I discovered the reason we never, ever had macaroni cheese was because in the very early days of their 1950s marriage my mother had made it for supper and my father had sat in it. In the days when they still sat next to each other on the sofa he had leant forward to fiddle with the 'set'. His young wife, meanwhile, had put the plate piled high next to her. He sat back, still in his suit trousers, leapt back up again, had a major sense of humour failure and that was the end of macaroni being cooked/eaten/mentioned in our family ever again.
Sitting in a plate of pasta is unfortunate and I'm sorry it gave rise to such a negative response but thankfully most of us remember food for the good times and we all love to relive the memories. Like when I bit into a mulberry last September at Hergest Croft. For a split second I was eight again, reaching high to shake the limb of a tree at the back of my primary school. Being the tallest girl in the school in my final year these intensely dark and spicy fruit fell like just deserts giving me a rare opportunity to shine. I have been on the look-out for them ever since.
Everyone has happy eating memories: licking condensed milk off knitting needles after 'lights out' might sound strange but my mother's eyes positively glaze over when she talks about it. She shares my respect for food, as do the millions of mothers across the world whose children beg for a repeat of a particular cake or pudding from years before with unique pleading in their eyes. They know how much good feeling can be got from something apparently as simple as the first raspberries and cream of the year. If only you could go somewhere and ask for just a few of those happy memories to be conjured up for you.
We don't eat out very often it's true so maybe there is such a place and I haven't discovered it. All too often restaurant menus appear to be keeping such a close eye on their neighbour or the fashion that it is difficult to know what tastes are going to win through. I love being surprised and I love 'new'. But sometimes I like to imagine beforehand what to expect. I think it's nice for the taste buds to be primed. It adds to the sense of occasion.
When I put together menus for clients I think about those memories. There is so much talk now of 'local' and 'seasonal' and I hate to follow a trend but I ask you, why would you not want blackberries on a September menu? Everyone deserves the fun of a little time travel. Even if you have never actually stained your hands with this purple juice, a spoonful of poached blackberries, maybe with a soft peak of geranium cream, will let you be a child who did.
Sometimes, if I'm lucky I get to see this happen. Everyone who entertains or caters for others knows that guests go quiet sometimes because of a halt in conversation. This can be uncomfortable but it's not the sort of silence I listen out for as I'm behind the scenes in the kitchen. I listen for the silence when a taste memory has caught them by surprise. It doesn't last very long but I'm pretty sure for a moment they have been somewhere else. I don't know where. It's none of my business. But I hope it's somewhere very happy.
There is always a tiny risk attached to taste bud time travel. You never can be completely certain of course. Which is why macaroni cheese is not on my menu - yet.

Milly's Menus will have a stand at the Church Stretton Craft Fair at the senior school on Saturday, November 8, from 10am to 4pm.
To find out more about Milly's menus and freezer filling telephone 01694 781 403 or email: melissarees@tiscali.co.uk

Panel with logo (copy can be cut back)

H/L Milly and her menus
Melissa Rees , 41, and known by family and friends as Milly, was helping to run the community shop in Wistanstow when she got a call from a friend who needed someone as a relief chef for her holiday properties near Church Stretton and had heard about Milly's cooking.
"I've always done a fair bit of entertaining and used to do freezer filling for friends when I lived in London. When the holiday cooking came along I didn't know about keeping my dishes easy to serve or keeping to a number of stock dishes so each time I had a booking I felt I should come up with a completely new menu. It just seemed the right thing to do."
Now running her own catering and freezer-filling company, Milly starts afresh each time. She puts as many hours into the menu preparation as she spends cooking on the night.
"I remember as a child keeping scrapbooks of recipes and even then I used to design dinner party menus. I hadn't really thought about it being an unusual hobby for a young girl but I suppose it was. Anyway, I've never lost the urge and I'm thrilled to think of all those years of hording recipes and experimenting being put to good use.
"I grow a lot of fruit and veg myself. It amuses me when I hear people use terms such as 'locally sourced' or 'seasonal' as if they've discovered some new science. It just feels right to be influenced by what's growing in my garden. What could be more perfect than the taste of elderflowers with gooseberries? But I wouldn't want to eat it in November."
So, how does she put together the menus?
'I'll get a call or an email from someone who has an occasion in mind and I'll have a good chat. That's important as people's tastes are so individual. I pick up a lot about their expectations of the whole occasion and the sort of mix of dishes they might enjoy. They then get back to me if they want to make any changes or ask any questions about the ingredients or how it is cooked. I'm happy to talk it through. I just want to get it right."

Most Read

Most Read

Latest from the Shropshire Life