Memorable tastes

The dairy was where the milking equipment was washed and stored. A concrete floor and whitewashed walls, it had a surgical atmosphere, an impression heightened by the smell of the liquid used to sterilize the milking clusters and buckets. Before the advent of the bulk tank, the milk was poured into ten gallon aluminium churns that were collected by the lorry from the Milk Marketing Board each morning. In warm weather, they would be placed in tin baths filled with water in an attempt to keep the milk cool. The end of the churns and the arrival of bulk collection meant the tank was electronically chilled and agitated, but also that there was no longer the opportunity to skim thick fresh milk from the surface.

In memory, the dairy is associated with the taste of warm cream and cold water. On hot days, there was a delight in turning on the tap and ducking down to drink water that was chillingly cold and fresh; no water since has compared with that which we drank from the farm well.

It wasn’t just water and milk that had an intensity of taste that seemed to disappear, ordinary food was different.

On Saturdays, the plain rectangular loaf delivered each day by the baker was supplemented by a “cottage” loaf, thick crusty bread which would be spread thickly with butter. The idea that one would have such a thin layer of butter that one could not see the marks of one’s teeth, when one bit through it, would have seemed strange in times when the current health concerns lay in a distant future. Cheese, which in Somerset was almost invariably Cheddar, was eaten in large chunks, with pickled onions that had been home bottled. Eggs were large, free range, irregular in size, and strong in taste. Tomatoes had a sweetness comparable with that of apples.

Certainly, the memory plays tricks, but taste, like smell, is a sense that lingers. Perhaps the tastes were more intense because the processing and additives now considered necessary were absent, perhaps the tastes are more intense in the memory because the tastes were fewer. Food was plentiful, but was plain. Even in a cafe, if one bought a sandwich, it was a cheese sandwich, or a ham sandwich, or an egg sandwich. Meals were meat, potatoes and vegetables. The tastes that linger are those that were plain but strong.

Perhaps summertime tastes linger most because the days allowed time for the taste to linger. Even time seemed more intense in those days.

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