A Calabrian specialty from Sweet Roots
Words: Mark Riddaway
That food and memory are so deeply entwined is, for the most part, a wonderful and enriching thing. The problem comes when a food you objectively enjoy ignites a bubbling furnace of unresolved resentment and fratricidal fantasies. Then it’s less good.
When I was a kid, both my sisters had terrible food allergies. Had they been allergic to nuts or shellfish, my world would have been no worse. Had they been allergic to white fish with parsley sauce, it would have been much improved. Instead they had to be allergic to dairy and citric acid: vital components in everything that any child has ever actively wanted to eat. That meant a house bereft of chocolate, ice cream and sweets. For me, a blameless bystander forced to suffer for the flaws of his idiot siblings, this was a living hell. That may sound unkind, but until you’ve been made, through no fault of your own, to eat a carob Easter egg—a carob Easter egg—don’t judge me.
When my nan came by on a Saturday, plain liquorice laces were the only ‘treats’ she was allowed to bring. I’d glumly chomp on mine in front of the Paul Daniels show while contemplating how much better life would be if I had zero sisters and one giant tube of Smarties.
Anger, sorrow, and Debbie McGee
It’s a measure of the quality of Amarelli liquorice, made in Calabria since 1731 and found at Sweet Roots, that I love it despite that trauma. The first piece out of the very pretty tin opens a deep fissure filled with anger, sorrow and Debbie McGee. By the third or fourth, though, my heartrate has dropped and their sticky, bitter charm has me back in the present, happy and carefree. They contain no sugar, relying instead on the complex natural sweetness of liquorice root. If I’d been made to eat them when I was nine, it would surely have tipped me over the edge. Now, I can cope.