By Emma Taylor
Taste is one of the five senses through which we experience the world around us. For this reason, food and drink make up part of the picture of a particular episode of our lives, becoming intertwined with the memory of it. We all have foods which take us back to a certain moment, a time machine on our plate. School dinners – the image of those square chocolate sponges – instantly creates the feeling of childhood, as does, for me at least, orange squash and spaghetti hoops. After an exam a couple of weeks ago I had a fish finger sandwich for dinner, soothed by its connection to a simpler time. In the last edition of the year, therefore – and in the last term of my final year – I want to trace my time in Durham through food.
In first year, I was, as so many of us are, in catered accommodation. Potatoes were, therefore, a defining feature of my time (so many shapes!) and I remember standing in the dinner queue hoping it was my favourite type. Weekends began with brunch – I fell in love with hash browns and now can never eat one without believing myself to be back in first year, but do not miss the disappointment that came every time I hopefully and hopelessly tried the scrambled eggs. New friends were made over coffee in Flat White. Nights out started with wine drunk from mugs and ended with the pizza eaten in the small hours of the morning in a sudden intense craving for melted cheese.
Then first year slipped into second year, and I moved into my first house, in which I would have to grow up and cook for myself. Here I should admit that my university years could be aptly summed up as an ode to tinned food, which I love. My first dinner of second year was tinned macaroni cheese – in all its gloopy yellow glory – and I spent the year happily opening tins of spaghetti to put on toast, tinned peaches, tinned beans. It is with regret that I note I only discovered the simple joy of tinned rice pudding this year. Birthdays stand out as bright and beautiful meals. My housemates and I would cook for our birthdays, with ridiculously adventurous (and therefore often doomed) recipes – Pad Thai made from scratch was a particularly fun failure. I remember eating a lot of peanut butter out of the jar during exam period. The summer after exams was lovely. It was picnics that lasted all afternoon, sausage rolls, slightly melted chocolate, squashed strawberries and warm cheese and crackers.
My third year was spent abroad, in Brussels and Paris. It was a year that was both wonderful and challenging in terms of adapting linguistically and also personally. We are always told that food is a major part of a culture and way of life, and on my year abroad I realised this was not an urban myth. Brussels was defined by frites and mayonnaise (from lovely little stalls selling paper cornets of frites with a dizzying array of toppings), the best hot chocolate I will ever taste, and beer served in glass goblets. Paris was crepes, baguettes bought warm from the boulangerie after work, red wine and pastries. Almond croissants, for me, will always taste of homesickness. Food also became a part of feeling more at home, by bringing home with me. Whilst trying to embrace the cuisine of the country I was in, I also drank tea in the mornings and afternoons, much to the amusement of my coffee-drinking colleagues. I remember coming back to England to visit with a friend, and we both excitedly ordered bacon sandwiches and tea at Manchester Airport.
This year was my final year in a place I have called home for the past four years. I have spent a lot of time making the most of Durham’s little food spots, which will soon be confined to memory. This year I became more confident in the kitchen and in my abilities, as my housemates and I cook for each other often. One housemate makes incredible tomato and anchovy pasta. I have learned the recipe, and will always cook it thinking of him making it in our little student kitchen with eighties music playing. I have not, however, forgotten my first love of tinned food. Tinned rice pudding, which my housemate and I eat with a blob of raspberry jam, was a sweet comfort when summative season loomed large on the horizon.
Now, in my final weeks, my time in Durham is almost at curtain call. I will soon pack my suitcases, and drive with the cathedral in my rear view mirror for the last time. It will be preserved in memory, and like all memories it is made up of a myriad of things. The picture postcard views from the bridges, Palace Green, dancing in Klute, but also formals, dinner parties with friends, birthday cakes, and even the lunch boxes I packed for the library in exam season. Food and drink form an intrinsic part of the mosaic of memory. An academic text will always remind me of Durham, but so too will pesto pasta, instant coffee and peanut butter eaten from the jar with a teaspoon. Life is a feast, both metaphorically and literally.
Photograph: Emma Taylor