Open Age is a charity which works across West London to enable anyone aged 50 or older to sustain their physical and mental fitness, and develop new and stimulating interests. As the Covid-19 pandemic led to lockdown measures across the UK, many of their members found themselves self-isolating in their homes for weeks, even months.
Friends who had been meeting up for years for food and lively conversation as part of our regular lunch, cooking and social groups, were left feeling stranded and excluded from their communities inside their own flats and houses. For some, who weren’t able to access technology, the telephone became their only connection with the outside world.
So the outreach and link-up team started running phone groups for members who would normally have been meeting in person, and many of the conversations they had together involved food and cooking and the role that has played in their lives.
And we suggested that they try to record some of those conversations and collect them into
a cookbook of sorts.
We designed the book, not just as a collection of recipes, but rather as a record of how the Open Age community came together to support each other through a remarkable period of time.
Many of the recipes were shared as part of a wider conversation rather than as a specific recipe, and were hastily scribbled down, while on the phone. Those members who could, snapped low resolution photos of their dishes on their phones and emailed them to us, while those with no access to technology embellished their recipes with verbal anecdotes and memories of family meals in the past.
We wanted to create a sense of the importance of these recipes as a sharing of common histories, and a way of talking about individual experiences through a common interest in the way that food has shaped people’s lives.
Inevitably, lockdown meant that the people on the calls (most of whom were shielding) couldn’t get access to many ingredients, so recipes were improvised and adapted to make the most of what people had in their cupboards. We used scans of handwritten notes and scraps of paper to communicate the “make the most of what you’ve got” nature of the calls, and photos and cuttings to link the recipes to their stories and histories.
The full cookbook can be found on the Open Age website at https://www.openage.org.uk/cook-book-have-look or you can order a book from Amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08R8Y3QNN?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860