A few weeks ago I lost my only surviving grandparent; my Jean. And now I’m putting pen to paper and cursing myself for leaving it so late.
Both my grandmothers were great cooks who instilled in me the love of cooking, the importance of sitting down to break bread with those we love and the role that food plays in nurturing both our bodies and our souls.
At their sides (and at my Mum’s too, let’s not forget what an important part she has played in my culinary education) I learned to taste, to test and to cook. They taught me to experiment, to have confidence and most importantly, to have fun in the kitchen. My Nain, a farmer’s daughter, specialised in classic, old fashioned dishes – the wellingtons, the roasts, bara brith and the plain old pound cake.
My Jean (never Grandma; she wasn’t old enough she’d say) was a typical 50s bride, celebrating the end of rationing – spiced goulash, rich fondue, recipes from the sides of cereal packets and the sweetest tooth I’ve ever known. Together we made countless tiffins, fudges, super sweet puddings full of cream, chocolate and booze, plus many variations of biscuits and tray bakes.
Taste and smell are so evocative of memory; blowing on creamy porridge topped with crunchy demerara sugar takes me back to being four and sitting at my Jean’s large oval table in her sunny kitchen. Coming back home the day after cooking a lamb roast, the lingering smell in the kitchen takes me straight back to the large kitchen at my Nain’s, helping her load a roast into the hostess trolley (don’t judge, it was the 80s).
When it came to clearing my Nian’s house a few years ago, I came across her domestic science books (she was at collage during World War II) with recipes for mock goose, cakes with hardly any sugar and vegetables in all sorts of guises. In addition I found a copy of Mrs De Salis’ Housewife’s Referee from 1898, which kick-started a love of old cookery books (I now have about 12 pre-1940s and the collection shows no signs of abating – HINT, you all know what to get me for birthdays now).
And when my Jean finally relented and moved into a home, she passed onto me her treasured recipe box , filled with recipes snipped off packets and handwritten scribbles (her recipes are notoriously brief), which takes pride of place in my kitchen today (and from which I have already recreated her infamous marmalade).
My aim, over time, is to work through my Grandmas’ recipes, collate those family recipes dear to me and try out some of the more unusual and outlandish old recipes that I come across in antique recipe books (but no roasted plovers I’m afraid). It’ll be an adventure – who knows what I’ll learn along the way?