Curating The People’s Recipe Book

Story collection / Editing

Facilitating and editing a story collection project with members of the general public. 

The People’s Recipe Book was started as a project to collect food stories in people’s own words. 

The idea behind the project was to offer a network of informal advice and different perspectives about food and eating. 

The archive can be accessed online via thepeoplesrecipebook.tumblr.com and a print edition is due shortly. 

Contributors included: Brother Portrait, Casey Heller, Christian Adofo, Dominic Holman, George Pritchard, Hugh Rose, Lina Robey, Martha Nelissen, Phoebe Douglas, Sam Golden, Sarah El-Grew, Slam The Poet, Tilly Paul, and Will Slater.

Sample story

Memories of Mahalabiya

by Sarah-El Grew

It’s hard to think about food without thinking about my dad. As far as I know, dad has only two passions in life: cooking and football. He is not a very talkative man, and we haven’t always got along well. However, even during the lowest points of our relationship, we would still break bread together at the table every night. We’ve long said in my house that my dad shows his love through his cooking. Although he doesn’t say much, his food does.

The circumstances of my dad’s upbringing were a world apart from mine. He was born in Libya in the 60’s. He would have been a young child when Gaddafi led the al-Fateh Revolution. The colours, tastes and textures of his life growing up are largely unknown to me. He grew up in a large family of seven sisters and three brothers, which (as with most Arab families I know) has had its fair share of loss, heartbreak and betrayal – both personal and political. He left at 19, and rarely goes back. As a result, I have never had the opportunity to travel to see my enormous family or the place he grew up. One thing he has shared with us, however, is the food.

Firm favourites in our house were imbakbaka and Libyan lamb couscous. As we tore off pieces of bread to dip in our meals (any meal, it doesn’t matter – there is always bread), we would mutter words of thanks while everyone ravenously tucked in. Growing up with two CONSTANTLY hungry brothers, food was a most precious commodity so I would shovel it in as-fast-as-possible to ensure access to a second portion. Dad always made enough, and we would often drag friends along unannounced to sample his delights. If we were really lucky, he might have made some sweet Mahalabiya for dessert, which we would savour every spoonful of – practically licking the bowl clean by the end.

In a mixed heritage household, it can often feel like a confusing culture clash on all sides. So it’s always been a relief that at the very least, in one room, there’s harmony. Keeping one eye on the oven, and the other on the steaming pots and pans, dad happily listens to the Liverpool match on his tinny little radio, and we all gratefully concede that the kitchen is his territory, and always will be.