During the 80s and 90s, there was a curious phenomenon in Pakistani households in the UK. Everyone I grew up around of my parents' generation would host fabulous dinner parties and banquets filled with good food, laughter and merriment. I have such fond memories of my mother getting all dressed up and adorned in gold and shiny things and my sister and I being forced into uncomfortable frocks, often with giant doily bibs and bows about the neck that slowly throttle you throughout the evening (why Mamma Imposter insisted on dressing us like the twins from The Shining, I'll never know).
A black forest gateau or..... a giant strawberry trifle.
These two desserts were the absolute pinnacle of chic when I was growing up. To the Pakistanis I knew, they were recognised symbols of being incredibly worldly and, most importantly, assimilated. They were quintessentially British and perfectly demonstrated one's affinity with and knowledge of British culture.
The only problem is, no one really eats trifles and gateaus any more. In fact, come to think of it, I've only ever eaten trifle and gateaus with other Pakistani people proudly congratulating each other on how British we are right now. I find it so curious that something that was adopted because of it's Britishness has now become so characteristically Pakistani. I suppose it's the same subversion of cuisine culture that has lead to the curry becoming one of Britain's signature, defining dishes.
Needless to say trifle, in particular, has become an institution in my family and remains the go to special occasion British dessert. For decades it has been impervious to the fate of many other cuisines in the Imposter household which were casually "Asianed up a bit" with a dash of spice or a hint of some other beautifully aromatic, but completely unnecessary, South Asian herb.
But trifle was sacred. We didn't need to tamper with it's Britishness, it didn't need improving like, say, spaghetti bolognese which, clearly, needs a few teaspoons of chili powder doesn't it Mum?
The humble strawberry trifle is such a prominent part of my family history and, over the years, somehow became the British yardstick every hostess measured themselves by. I will never forget the Eid dinner of 1998 when every female relative lost their shit because my cousin "Mariana" made a new, daring criss cross pattern in the cream topping using a fork.
From then on, the gloves were off and the claws were out. It was Triflegate, it was the Big Brown British Bake Off and it was every cook for herself.
Suddenly at family gatherings, trifles started emerging with diagonal criss crosses, elaborate swirls, stiff peaks like rocky mountain ranges and some smushy type design made with the back of a spoon (it was a very experimental time guys). One time someone even layered the top with sliced banana... but we don't talk about that fiasco.
It was a constant display of one one-upmanship and artistic flair but all very good humoured and us kids were just happy to have something different to look at each time. We continued on in this fashion for a few years until one day my mother, trailblazer of the century, turned out a beautiful trifle (with decorative cream, obviously) but she put
Well, we were just floored, Internet. I remember gaping at them hanging there at the bottom of the dish, suspended in a vacuum of strawberry deliciousness; the feeling of each piece popping on my tongue. It wasn't just dessert any more folks, it was a religious experience.
From that day on it was over. The standard family prototype had been forever cemented:
Do what the hell you want with the cream on top but, for the love of all that is holy, put some damn fruit in the jelly.So that's what we did, and will continue to do until the next revolutionary brainwave. And, yes, it's a peculiar thing to latch on to and could just have easily have been prawn cocktail or any other outmoded recipe from the 70s but, do you know what? I think I kind of love this bizarre cultural offshoot of the great British melting pot and, from a social anthropological perspective, I find it utterly fascinating.
At this point in the game, family gatherings just wouldn't be the same without that big bowl of jelly, fish fingers and wet custard or whatever the shit it is you put in there.
I don't know about you, but all this nostalgia has made me a little peckish.
Well there go my evening plans.
My Life As An Imposter
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