Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Granny's Cookbook

I am very fortunate that I have the kind of family that is ever so slightly odd. I was raised amongst people for whom 'strange and unusual' was not only the norm but something to be aspired to. Don't get me wrong, they won't be carted off in straight jackets anytime soon, but they are for the most part people who don't quite fit. People who have always said 'be different, stand out from the crowd'.

When during my teenage years my friends and I got into Goth, my best friend was worried about what my mum would think if she turned up on my doorstep 'all gothed up.' My mum's answer to this was to open the door to Lynn one day all garbed in black, her hair crimped and backcombed and wearing enough black eyeliner to sink a battleship. Go mum!

When I saw or heard things which most people thought weren't there, no one in my family so much as raised an eyelid. My dad's psychic abilities scared the living daylights out of him (I later found) but not once, not ever, did he say anything to frighten or discourage me. 

Everything I've done, every phase I went through, every life decision I have made, every crazy thing I've thought of, has been taken in their stride.

So when I said 'Mum, I'm feasting with the dead this Christmas,' she didn't skip a beat and responded by digging out the photo albums and ringing around the extended family and producing a recipe book my Nana had kept which hadn't seen the light of day for many a year. How cool is that? No horrified looks, no whispered jibes behind my back, no questions, no family conferences, just 'ok, what do you need?' I love my family.

So now I'm working my way through the pages of a book, lovingly written, altered, and grease stained over its many years of use. It begins with handwriting that is obviously young, and inexperienced. The hand grows steady and sure as the pages turn before becoming increasingly shaky towards the end. At first everything is handwritten, later there are cuttings from magazines which are accompanied by my great-grandma's comments... 'swap half the swedes for carrots,' 'works better with chicken stock,' 'what a waste of wine!' and my personal favourite, 'looks great but tastes bleedin' awful.'

The recipes are seasonal, written for the most part before home freezers were common place. Some seem quite distasteful to my modern mind. (I'm sorry Nana but I just can't bring myself to eat tripe). Some are obviously from the early days of her marriage when she lived in a farming community, others from the war years and abound with powdered eggs and mock cream. Most, infuriatingly, don't include quantities which makes recreating them a little tricky. I puzzled over this for a few days, what kind of recipe book doesn't include the quantities? But now I think I know. Some of them may have been so familiar to her they were merely prompts, not detailed recipes to follow; but mostly I think it was because she had to make do with whatever she had got available. The quantities for getting it 'right' were not as important as putting a sustaining meal on the table.

And that is something I have definitely inherited from her, as did my mother and grandmother before me. If there is one thing I'm good at it is rustling up a meal from next to nothing.

I'm sorting out a few of my favourites for our belated Holy Supper on New Year's Eve, I can't afford to buy all the ingredients I'd like but so long as I've done my best and come up with something tasty and hearty I don't think Nana will mind if I was completely faithful to her recipes or not. I will have captured the essence of her cooking and I know she will appreciate that.


  1. Your mom is awesome... I wish my family was that cool while I was growing up... I think the only thing my mom did that shocked people was helping me dye my hair all different colors. I hope that I'm able to stay open minded and accepting as my son grows up..

    My grandmothers used to cook that exact same way.. I've found their old cook books with no measurements written, just the actual ingredient and that's how I cook now =) Good luck with the belated celebration!!