Mash at a Wedding, Whiskey at a Funeral

At the tail-end of 2019 I attended a wedding in the south of England, the wedding of my partner’s brother. It’s a big, close family and there was a lot of excitement about the upcoming festivities – especially the food. I will never forget the sheer glee on my partner’s face as he relayed the fact that every table at the dinner would have a bowl of mashed potatoes on it. For sharing.

It was a way of celebrating their roots and their family. Mash was a staple of their meals at home – huge portions of the stuff. A roast dinner would never be complete without a mountain of potato and a huge jug of gravy, and it became something of a family in-joke as far as I can understand it.

I loved the idea and shared in my partner’s laughter when we spied the silver bowls filled with perfectly fluffy, golden mash. One bowl for each table, a large serving spoon elegantly stuck in each one.

It reminded me, somewhat morbidly, of my grandfather’s funeral. In lieu of mashed potato, each table at his wake was graced by a tray of small glasses of whiskey. My grandfather was an avid whiskey drinker. Having those shots of whiskey were a way to remember him and celebrate what we loved about him in a very personal way. A way that only those who loved him could really appreciate.

Alcohol is par for the course at a wake but drinking those tiny shots of whiskey with my family felt more like a love letter to my grandfather, a sentimental moment in an evening of raucous remembrances.

It got me thinking about how food and drink are used so prominently in celebration. We’re used to feast days and Christmas dinner and Halloween sweets, hotdogs on bonfire night and chocolates on Valentine’s Day. The traditional celebrations, where food is part of the ritual. When people celebrate, they gather, and when people gather, they need to be fed – thus, food becomes intrinsically linked with religious holidays and anniversaries and all sorts of festivities.

But when there’s a personal touch, it’s just a little bit more special. A shot of whiskey is just a shot of whiskey, until it’s a touching reminder of a lifelong habit. Mash is just mash until it’s a celebration of thousands of hearty meals made by a loving mother. It’s different when the food is the celebration, it carves a wedge in your memory and fills it with sight, smell, and taste, so tangible and real.

I don’t remember what the wedding cake looked like. I remember the bowls of mash, though.

Everyone eats and everyone drinks. Everyone has habits and traditions and rituals when it comes to food. Sharing such a thing is so personal and heartfelt, it’s a perfect way to express love for the people you care about.

When I get married to my partner, I have no doubt that there will be bowls of mashed potato at each dinner table. Since it will be my wedding too, the mash will be paired with sweet and sour chicken balls from the nearest Chinese takeaway.

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