« Ew. What on earth is that you’re eating ? »My kids have all heard that at some point in elementary school, as their friends spied the greenish, frankly unappealing contents of their thermos.
My siblings and I grew up in a French home in a then predominantly anglophone neighbourhood of Montreal. My mother, a Parisienne, arrived at a time when Montreal was still pretty much a cultural backwater. Place des Arts, the city’s performing arts center had not yet been built. And the weather …the weather confirmed the image of that frozen wasteland evoked by Voltaire who called New France « quelques arpents de neige » (a few acres of snow). My father who hailed from Belfort, in Franche-comté in eastern France, was an « insoumis » who, rather than fight against Algerian independence in a war he did not believe in, fled to Canada, where his brother was already newly established. Together, he and my mother worked hard to make a life for themselves in a foreign country where they had to earn a living for a growing young family and learn english quickly in order to do business with half the population. The other half spoke a very different french from the one spoken back in France, and was often the source of bafflement and occasional hilarity to them. I have no doubt the bafflement and hilarity went both ways.
My parents, being forward-thinking as always, thought it would be a good idea for their children to pick up English as early as possible, and so they registered us in an english nursery school as soon as we were of age to attend. We remained in the english system throughout our education, and gradually peppered our conversations at home with more and more english until it became what we called « frenglish », much to our parents’ exasperation. Our eating habits, however, remained decidedly more French than English. Our bread was crusty. Our cheese was stinky (roquefort was a staple in our home). We ate offal. In fact, so French was our cuisine at home, that any visiting classmate might accept a dinner invitation only to find out calf brains or liver was on the menu. More than one friend remained friends but refrained from accepting future dinner invitations. It took me a while to realize how unusual (and not in a good way) some of our meals were to my friends, and after a while I suggested to my mom that in future she cook something « normal » when friends came over.
Although we had some unusual food at our table, by North American standards, our repertoire was not that extensive, as my parents both worked long hours and were too tired to experiment with new dishes by the time they arrived home after a long day at the office. One of my favourite soups that my mother would make only a few times a year, when she found Sorrel at the grocery store, was « Soupe à l’Oseille », sorrel soup. I’ve given that name to my blog for reasons which I will explain a little further on.
Now that I have children of my own, I have tried to expose them to different kinds of foods, different cuisines, and tried to encourage them to have an open mind about trying unusual foods. As a toddler, my youngest daughter drew pleasantly surprised looks from another shopper at the grocery store when she piped up : « Mommy, can we buy some baba ghanoush ? » This was in Orleans, Ontario, a very « white bread » suburb of Ottawa, where we spent her first few years, back in the mid ‘90s, when Lebanese food was just beginning to make itself known there.
In order to show my children where real food comes from , I have always had some veggies and herbs growing in the garden. Sorrel is the first edible plant I grow to push through the newly thawed earth, and the last one to die off in the fall. It makes a delicious, slightly lemony soup which my kids all love, and which I often put in their thermos for lunch when they went off to school. Those friends of theirs who were curious enough or gutsy enough to look past its somewhat unappealing colour were rewarded with a surprisingly delicious treat. Many would later ask if I would be serving it up for supper when they’d come over for a meal.
And that’s the point of this blog. I hope it will inspire its readers to explore different ingredients, try new foods or techniques before making up their mind as to whether they like something. Those who do are usually rewarded.