Every time Mrs. Fisher offered Mrs. Arbuthnot anything – her cup, or milk, or sugar – Mrs. Arbuthnot offered her macaroons, – pressed them on her with an odd assiduousness, almost with obstinacy.
I was very young when I fell in love with Italy. We won a trip to Europe when I was in primary school, and alongside formative weeks in London and a memorable weekend in Paris, we spent some time in Tuscany. We lay on the grass in the sun, grilled mushrooms the size of our hands, happened across wild boar as we made our way up the driveway, and ate gelato everyday. It was a trip we still haven’t stopped talking about.
Earlier this month, the family and I returned to Italy. It’s been a long planned holiday – the collective celebration of a number of significant birthdays and milestone anniversaries, and a chance for us to all be together for the first time in years. It’s also the first time we’ve travelled together as adults. Folding ourselves into the hire car, we drove off in search of restaurants and villages only half-remembered from previous trips.
On holidays when we were young, my sister Lucy and I spent time at mum and granny’s elbows as they cooked, asking to have a stir or a taste. On this trip, we shared the cooking, and took turns to bring dishes to the table: crisp spring salads, rich soup filled with meat so tender it fell from the bone, ricotta-filled ravioli, platters of meats, cheese, and vegetables. We shopped in local markets, butchers, and bakeries, and came home most days with paper bags filled with tomatoes and focaccia sold by weight.
I eat plenty of Italian food back here in England, but everything tastes different on holiday. Glossy tomatoes that hold the summer sun underneath their skins. Quivering, creamy burrata. The sting of spicy chillies in a spaghetti vongole. A sharp Parmesan seasoning a paper-thin slice of raw beef. And bitter almonds: their distinctive taste found…