Mothers and Sons

She insisted on his having a small currant tart, because he liked sweets.
‘I don’t want it, mother,’ he pleaded.
‘Yes,’ she insisted, ‘you’ll have it.’                         (D.H.Lawrence, Sons and Lovers)

It seems rather obvious to state that our relationship with food is shaped by our upbringing, particularly by our parents and other family members. What they give us to eat and the way they think and talk about food provide ideas and impulses that we either conform to – or in some cases rebel against.  

My Mum was nothing if not laid back about her children’s eating habits – some might say to a fault. She believed that making an issue of food could lead to eating problems later in life. So, although we had to try what was set before us, we never had to eat it if we didn’t like it, and she would frequently cook a variety of dishes to please her four children’s – and husband’s – varying appetites. One of my brothers ate little more than fish fingers, peanut butter and ice cream for years, but now is an amazing cook with a very wide-ranging palate – even if he still refuses to eat bananas! So Mum obviously knew what she was doing.

D.H. Lawrence’s novel Sons and Lovers, published in 1913, is the Nottinghamshire writer’s fictional exploration of his relationship with his own mother. The novel centres on the Morel family, who bear strong parallels to Lawrence’s own family: the father, Walter, is an uneducated, heavy drinking miner, whilst his wife, Gertrude, is educated and comes from a middle-class background. After the initial passion of her marriage fades and she becomes disillusioned with her husband, Mrs Morel channels all her hopes and aspirations into her four children: her three sons – William, Paul and Arthur – and a daughter, Annie.

It is the middle son, Paul, who is the particular object of Mrs Morel’s hopes and dreams. Like Lawrence himself, Paul is creative though Lawrence makes him an artist rather than a writer. The portrayal of the intimate mother-son relationship, with its overtones of the Oedipus complex, suggests Lawrence was influenced by the theories of Sigmund Freud which were being developed at around the same time. Paul’s love for his mother prevents him making lasting and fulfilling relationships with women his own age; and Mrs Morel’s hostility to Paul’s two lovers, Miriam and Clara, suggests her own inability to let her son go.

The passage quoted above comes in the first part of the novel. Paul has finished his schooling and is seeking work. Invited for interview as an office clerk at a firm manufacturing surgical appliances, he and his mother travel to Nottingham for the day.

After the interview – which results in Paul being employed – Mrs Morel suggests they go for dinner, an act which is described as a ‘reckless extravagance’. The narrator notes that ‘Paul had only been in an eating-house once or twice in his life, and then only to have a cup of tea and a bun’. The food is more than Mrs Morel can really afford: she ‘ordered kidney pies and potatoes as the cheapest available dish’, yet she will not allow her beloved son to be denied any luxuries. Whilst he pleads with her not to buy him a pudding, she ‘insisted’ – the verb is used twice within three sentences – and the currant tart is his.


Ingredients (makes 4 individual tarts or 1 medium-sized one)

For the pastry:
100g plain flour
50g cold butter, cubed
25g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
Cold water

For the filling:
175g currants
2 tablespoons brandy, 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice (or 4 tablespoons orange juice if you do not want to use alcohol)
60g butter, melted and cooled
100g caster sugar
1 large egg, beaten

Begin by making the pastry. Place the flour in a mixing bowl and rub the butter into it using your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar. Add the egg yolk and, using a knife, bring the mixture together into a ball – you may need to add one or two tablespoons of water to help the mixture bind. Using a knife will prevent you over-mixing the mixture: pastry needs a light touch.  Wrap the pastry in cling film and place in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes, ideally longer.

When you are ready to make the tarts, preheat the oven to 180C, 160C fan or gas mark 4. At the same time mix the currants , brandy and orange juice in a bowl. Leave to stand until the currants have absorbed the liquid.

After the pastry has rested, roll it out thinly and line either a 20cm loose-bottomed flan dish or 4 individual tart tins. Line the pastry case with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans or dried pulses and bake blind for 10 minutes (individual tarts) or 15 minutes (large tart). Remove the beans and paper and return the pastry case to the oven for 5 further minutes cooking. Remove the baked pastry cases to the oven and increase the temperature to 190C, 170C fan or gas mark 5.

Combine the sugar, melted butter, egg and currants in a bowl. Pour the mixture into the pastry case(s).

Bake the tart(s) for 20-30 minutes until the pastry is golden and the filling is slightly puffy and lightly browned in the centre.
Allow to cool and dust with sieved icing sugar before serving.


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