I’m currently reading a cook book. That’s a rather unusual subject matter for me, as I have a health-induced restricted array of foods I can consume, and have given up mostly on expecting cookbooks to cater for my situation. As I was glancing at book titles in my local library though, this one leaped out at me – Love and Hunger, thoughts on the gift of food. (Charlotte Wood 2012)
It’s an Australian book, and while the author is of a younger generation than mine, because she’s spent much time living in rural towns she speaks a similar language.
The book is a more than a collection of recipes, it’s a thoughtful book about the part food plays in our lives, and our attitudes towards it. I also recommend popping over to her WordPress blog.
One of the chapters – Reclaiming the hostess gift – stirred me into writing this. The Hostess Gift is about not turning up to visit someone empty handed, but bearing a gift, preferably something cooked or grown by the giver. A bottle of wine can be the exception to that. After all, not many indulge in wine making. Although there is the ginger beer….but that’s another story!
“Turning up for dinner at someone’s house empty-handed would be as vulgar as arriving half-dressed.”
Thinking back to my childhood, where my father grew vegetables and fruit trees and kept chickens and my mother had a flower garden, and row upon row of jams and preserves, there was always something on hand to take when going visiting. One visitor to our home I particularly remember for her wonderful cakes, especially her fruit and nut roll. It was the days of people dropping something off on the doorstep too – sometimes it was easy to guess who the gift had come from, other times not, but it didn’t matter. What did matter was that it was about sharing and caring.
I continued that tradition over the years. Back in the days when I did a great deal of home baking, it may be a fruit cake, biscuits or even bread that I would take when visiting. At various times it could be a harvest from my garden, be it vegetables or a posy of herbs. Friends would arrive with something that spoke of their understanding of me, something that had been selected with thought. It would be received with delight and gratitude.
Yet, in recent times, I’ve noticed a distinct lack of this sharing and caring in action. Perhaps it’s my changed circumstances, but I’m more inclined to believe it’s a symptom of the breakdown in community, where many have no contact with their neighbours, and no understanding of the joy of giving. Is it because we’re too wealthy these days? Is it because people are too busy to produce home made food? Or are they not sufficiently confident of their skills to display to others outside the family? Is it regarded as easier to meet up at a hotel/cafe/restaurant with friends, rather than entertain at home?
Is the ‘hostess gift’ in decline? Perhaps your experience is that it’s alive and well. Maybe its existence or not, is more about personal networks, or location. What do you think?