May 20: burnt meat

My mum used to burn the meat, or at least cook it to a cinder. She mostly cooked meat in the oven. That way it was out of harm’s way. You could not see the blood leak to the surface behind the oven door. It was probably a squeamishness concerning the dead animal on her part. She would put some modest pieces of steak in the oven and three hours later, at the end of a long Sunday afternoon, the steaks would emerge, half the original size, very dark now, almost incinerated. The steak was now like a small piece of furniture or a blackened knuckle duster. And very hard. My mum and dad swore till they were red in the face that the longer you cooked the meat the more it became tender. This seemed to me to be patently not the case but there was no arguing with them.

This misconception about the need to overcook meat to make it tender was one of those notions that defined them, probably my mum (my dad just went along). We all have a number of these that live within us and somehow plot our identity. There is no logic to them. We cite them automatically and cease to think about whether we believe them or not. There may be deep subterranean reasons for them (my mum’s fear of the dead beast) or they may just be random. I, for example, will not eat a vegetable starting with the letter ‘A’. Aubergine; asparagus; artichoke. People see me eating an avocado and look to catch me out. Always one step ahead, I insist on the telling nuance: the avocado, my friend, is a fruit. Oh yes, you have to get up pretty early in the morning to catch me with an ‘A’ vegetable on my plate.

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