My gran seemed to just know how ingredients went together; a handful of flour, 'this much' sugar, a pinch of salt. It was effortless...or at least seemed like that to me when I was a small child.
I remember pots of chicken stock bubbling away for hours in the kitchen and the acrid, burnt smell when she was singeing the feathers off the chicken on her electric hob. Probably a technique more suited to outdoor cooking!
Food was a precious luxury, you didn't waste it and ate everything on the plate. It was always prepared from scratch and cooked with love.
Even when she was too weak to cook lavish three course meals she would never let us leave until she had made us a sandwich or wrapped a piece of cake in a napkin for us to take on our way.
I grew up with my gran's cooking – she would pick my sister and I up from school when my mum and dad were at work. We would walk back to her flat, via the parks and playgrounds. A diary entry from those days recalls a time 'we went to 4 playgrounds today!!!!'. When we got back her flat, exhausted and full of fresh air, my gran would start cooking. Sometimes we would help, but more often than not we would slump in front of the television and catch the latest episodes of Grange Hill, while the clanks, clatters and smells drifted out of her tiny kitchen.
There would always be soup – chicken noodle or tomato and rice were my favourites, then maybe boiled dumplings and fried fish as a main course. As a treat my gran would sometimes buy cream meringues or choux buns from Marks and Spencer. She loved Marks.
It was too late for me to write down her recipes, by the time I realized this would have been a good idea she was no longer able to cook. I have to go on taste. Like playing music by ear – trying out combinations of flavours until it works.
My taste memories take me back to where I was – a place of comfort and being looked after. She did always say I thought too much – even as a small child I always found something to worry about.
One of my favourite traditions she passed down to me was setting an extra place setting at Christmas Eve. I think it was for any weary travellers that passed the door, but it was also to remember those no longer with us.
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