Apple Gifford Remembers that the Recipe for a Good Meal Goes Far Beyond the Food

Food, family, and travel are deliciously linked in my mind. When I was a child we traveled a lot as a family. Sometimes we would travel en masse as a family of six, and sometimes, as the youngest of four siblings, I would travel alone with my parents. On our trips, my mother was generally drawn to churches and museums, while my father, no surprise, was drawn to food. In Portugal we spent many hours at the fishing docks, marveling at the colorful boats and the methods they used to bring in the fish (captivating stuff for a ten year old). In Ireland, it was a trip to the Guinness factory, and many conversations about scones and soda bread. My father was always keen to sample the local fare and he loved to identify the quintessential elements of a particular dining experience. I have many memories of him expounding on how well the Europeans do coffee, and he was forever absconding with elegant packets of sugar from the cafes he visited on his trips. 


My father was never afraid to try something out of the ordinary, and he relished grossing out his children with his adventurous tastes. My brother, Porter, remembers my father’s gusto for eel during our trip to Spain, while I remember his excitement over sampling tripe at a local market on that same trip. My stomach still turns at the thought of it. 

One particularly memorable meal on our trip to Spain was a picnic lunch at the Windmills of Consuegra. My father was enamored at the idea of visiting the windmills described in Don Quixote, and so we packed up provisions and set out for the day. Before leaving Madrid, we picked up fresh bread, fine cheeses, various kinds of olives, assorted dry-cured hams, chocolate, and of course wine. It was a perfect meal. I can still remember my delight at the delicious simplicity of it. Who knew that a bit of gooey cheese on bread could taste so good? My father had assembled a quintessential dining experience that transcended any one particular element. It wasn’t just the setting, or the company, or even the food—it was all of the elements combined. 

This is a lesson that has served me well over the years. Contrary to what many people might think, my father’s legacy has not been that food needs to be fancy or rarified to be enjoyed. Rather he taught me that the recipe for a good meal goes beyond the food. The key ingredients are the people, the setting, the context, and most of all, one’s own enthusiasm for the experience. When all of these ingredients are in place, then it is possible to truly savor the experience. I have thought of this as I’ve enjoyed cold macaroni and cheese on a hiking trail in northern Maine, as I’ve eaten strawberries out of the garden with my four-year-old daughter, and even while eating fast food with my husband on a road trip. Each of these experiences would have met with my father’s hearty approval, and I relish the joy of passing along the same legacy to my own children.

-Apple Gifford

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