It was my birthday last week. I mark the event in the same way each year; by hosting a BBQ for friends and family. The same routine is followed come rain or shine (this year, it was definitely rain). An afternoon start, food around 5 to suit those with kids and plenty of drinks for those who want to stay on into the evening.
There’s a fair bit to do in preparation and on the day. Planning the menu and sourcing accompanying drinks, readying the house and garden and then cooking the food will keep me busy until around 5:30pm on the day itself and occupy my thoughts for most of the preceding week.
But it is something I enjoy for a number of reasons. Firstly, if I am asking people to traverse the Capital to the uppermost reaches of the Northern Line, I’d better make it worth their while.
Secondly, it is a good excuse to get people together who probably haven’t seen each other for a while. It is a forum for different groups of friends, family even, who have gotten to know each other over the years with me or my wife as the common connection, to have an annual catch up.
The final reason is nostalgia. My childhood is littered with memories of big summer parties thrown by my parents for friends, family and my dad’s business acquaintances. I remember the buzz around the house as everyone prepared for the day. At the time these do’s felt grown up, important and it felt good to be involved, helping out where possible (I took my role as chief snack offeror very seriously) and talking to grown ups, seeing if there were any who would volunteer to throw some cricket balls to me at the back of the garden.
I want my children to experience the same thing, to get used to social occasions and speaking to adults, seeing if they can weasel 10-15 minutes of playtime out of them. I want them to feel the anticipation, to be excited by the prospect of an event, not terrified by it. It’s these days that break the monotony of every day life, that provide memories that last.
Speaking of which, the memories of the food my mum served at these parties endures more than most. Slabs of cold meats or BBQ offerings were the main event but it is the accompaniments that I loved, inevitably providing lunches and dinners for most of the following week.
As a household we rarely had mayonnaise but piles of multi-coloured pasta salad dotted with small strips of carrots and a handfuls of peas was the exception. There were rounds of home-made quiches with either mushroom, spinach or courgette fillings. Our Venezuelan cleaner would be commissioned to make half a dozen tortillas, each one a carbon copy of the others, with a smooth golden brown finish once it had been flipped from the frying pan. And, it being the ’80’s, more vol au vents than you could shake a stick at.
But one thing more than anything epitomised those parties for me… Sherry Trifle. For most, it is a Christmas delicacy, not so for us. It was the taste of the summer and why not? Why wait until the shortest days for this delight. We were blessed with fresh fruit from my dad’s allotment and there was no better way to use it up.
Not dissimilar in ingredients or appearance to this little number from Delia my mum’s own recipe has a few key tweaks. The substitution of fresh strawberries for frozen raspberries is a no-brainer given the season, but more importantly, replacing amaretti biscuits for the sponge fingers provides a welcome extra kick, the biscuits retaining a slight crunch even after soaking.
So, when it came to planning this year’s Birthday BBQ and the offer of assistance came in from the old woman, as it always does, I had little hesitation in requesting a Sherry Trifle. Needless to say, it went down a treat.
Some things are too good to be left as memories.