There is no mission so filled with purpose as setting out to assemble a meal with precious few resources in your own home. In true, hunter-gatherer-esque style, I scour the cupboards, shelves and fridge only to find them lacking.
But lurking in the darkness of the cupboard under the kitchen sink, I find a bag of big potatoes, sprouting and tentacled, breaking from the thin plastic that encases them. Bingo.
Not only is this my one hope of vital sustenance after putting off my weekly food shop day after day, but it is a discovery that brings unmatched joy.
Rather than just any food, for me, the jacket potato is an unrivalled meal packed with hope and familiarity. This is one food I could never tire of, I think, as I wash away a wholesome coating of soil under the cold tap and vent my jaded frustrations stabbing into the potato’s rotund form with a fork.
The ultimate simple meal staple, this is cooking at its most rudimentary and rewarding. Effortlessly prepared with nothing but a quick rinse, or if feeling more adventurous, perhaps rolling its skin in a sheen of olive oil littered with coarse crystals of sea salt, to be left unattended in the oven for a couple of hours.
Although at this moment, the thought of such a wait tears at my growling stomach, I typically relish the pregnant window of time as a baked potato slowly browns and crispens. Just last month, during a housebound stint of working from home, tossing a potato into the oven mid-morning to be retrieved again in time for lunch had provided welcome structure and routine in otherwise rudderless and directionless days. Its burgeoning promise necessitates a humbling patience in this age of instant gratification, but the tantalising compensation of comfort, taste, and a full stomach. Most of all, it had bought a renewed sense of motivation, knowing that food was on its way.
All too soon, I would be savouring the sodium smack of salt on my lips with a stodgy, stomach-filling dose of carbohydrate. Depending on the bounty of my kitchen shelves, I tend to cover its buttery flesh with lashings of tuna, sweetcorn and mayonnaise, or a generous serving of beans crowned with a tower of grated cheese. Lacking such options, a velveteen coating of butter finished with a dollop of Marmite goes down a treat, greedily gobbled from a steaming bowl on the comfort of my sofa.
I habitually return to this indulgence for its tangible sense of homecoming. If returning home after being away, I will automatically find myself setting the oven to Gas Mark 5 in preparation of this grounding meal, seeking its sheer, reassuring simplicity.
Every time, I cannot ignore how this food transports me back to Saturday afternoons of my childhood. Particularly, to the time when my family endured the awkward separation of my parents, much like a jacket potato sawn in two - altogether cut in half but still very much joined at the skin. Potatoes became a saviour for my undomesticated father, suddenly confronted with having to feed four hungry mouths. We found safety and certainty in baked potatoes, one for each of us as an inexhaustible easy-pleaser accompanied with a smorgasbord of toppings. This token weekend food has remained a habit of mine well into my late twenties and I hold an undying love for the comfort that it brings.
Now, the oven warmed and ready to receive, I can’t help but smile to myself as I open its door to gratefully place my offering at its centre.
“Alexa, set a timer for two hours.”