The binding is becoming flimsy and the pages are lightly tanned. The pages of the book now remind me of the colour she liked her tea; “just scare it slightly with the tea bag, Tori”.
On the front there’s an etching of of a pompous fellow in a chef’s toque; a large rib of beef splayed in front of him. In the bottom right corner the fabric is scabbed and stained, mocking the posh flourish of ‘Recipes’ written in italic.
If there was a fire, beyond The Hungry One, my Granny’s recipe book is what I’d tote from our London apartment. When she slipped away it was one of the things I snaffled from her estate.
Granny; or Eirene Joyce (Joyce to most) was the spine that made the clan stand straight.
She was born in 1916 in Hendon, the daughter of a Reverend. She came to Australia after the war as a young mother of four- my father being the youngest.
For the seven grandchildren who sprang from there she was a petite force of nature. She was determined her offspring would have boundless opportunities to reach their potential. That potential fascinated her. In hindsight I’m fairly certain that some ‘games’ we were playing as children would be better recognised as IQ and personality tests.
To Granny, everything was a teachable moment. My memories combine ploys of playing ‘shop’, and her drilling us on arithmetic while measuring dried beans.
Next to that are a pile of recollections which involve sitting at the cornflour blue formica table, picking at a lunch spread of Pritikin bread, boiled eggs and salad cream while toiling with her to complete the crossword of the day.
At the top of my jar of memories are pink hued days when all of the cousins came to turn the bounty of crab apples from the tree in the centre of her yard into a soft jelly that we’d dribble on scones or bread. While we were making it we’d work with a snub nosed pencil halving and multiplying the recipe – not because we needed to, but because she wanted to check that we could.
In her later years when she declined to relocate to a hospice I was employed by the family as one of her carers. At 7 am every Tuesday and Wednesday morning I’d arrive at her house, let myself in the back door and ferry her her first cup of tea for the day. She may have been constrained to five rooms, but she refused to let the fences of her mind close. I would have to crib up on what was in the newspaper while waiting for the kettle to boil. Each morning I’d find her propped up in her single bed, patiently waiting for me and ready to mentally pounce;
‘Tori, this morning I’d like to discuss the situation in the Solomon Islands. What are your thoughts on it?’
It was always better if I was up to date.
In this book of hers there’s magic. Near the back in neat script there’s the recipe for ‘family fruit cake’; it boasts a texture closer to a rock cake, a crumbly shale that clutches together dried fruits that might have been languishing in the cupboard. A portion of it was often found in her pantry in a large tupperware that crinkled at the corners and smelled of softened butter. This book is the product of a precise and economical mind. Its covers also house recipes for ‘depression cake’ and a wealth of other treats combining dried fruits and lard.
In the beginning of the books she’s made some notes on handy tips for housekeeping.
Scorches with blue water.
Ink with milk.
To prevent frozen doorsteps
Put a little methylated spirit in the water used to wash them.
Beyond that there’s a grand English thriftiness in her recipes for creamed tongue, and savoury meat pudding. And then there’s a steamed fish pudding I think most of my cousins and I are glad we were never served.
But my favourite part of the book are the menus at the start.
These aren’t the recipes that became family staples. When eight years ago, before I met my husband, and before she succumbed to her last bout of cancer I asked her about these menus, she laughed and said they ‘were the follies of a young woman, dreaming of grand parties and playing house’.
She and my grandfather married on a drenching day in 1937. The below are her visions for dinner parties that never happened. Life, war and children intervened.
Cream of Salmon Soup
Roast duck and apple sauce
Cold cherry soufflé
Veal fillets- new potatoes- spinach
Sardines on Toast
Cream of cucumber soup
Casserole of grouse
Fillet of sole a la mornay
Blackberry and apple meringue
Nut savouries! (I do love that she an exclamation mark next to these)
Cream of artichoke soup
Seventy years later, as a young(ish) married woman living with the luxury of peace and with time for folly, I’m going to get started on them.
It just doesn’t seem right for Granny’s book not to bring one more teachable moment.
But first, I have a craving for some of her family cake. And a weak cup of tea.
Family fruit cake
1 lb /450 grams self raising flour
1/4 tsp salt
6 oz/170 g unsalted butter (Granny called for margarine, but I’m taking some liberties here)
6 oz/170 g caster sugar
14 oz/400 g mixed fruit (I used 100 grams of currants, 100 grams of sultanas, 100 grams of mixed peel and 100 grams of chopped dried apricots)
2 eggs, beaten
A dash of milk
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp mixed spice.
Here’s how we roll
1) Preheat oven to 180 C/350 F.
2) Grease a 23 cm cake tin and line with baking parchment.
3) Rub butter into flour and salt with the tips of your fingers (until it resembles sandy pebbles)
4) Add sugar, fruit and spices.
5) Use a spatula or wooden spoon to mix with beaten egg and a dash of milk.
6) Bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer comes out clean.
7) Eat on its own, or, if you’re like my Granny, scraped with butter.
When to make this:
When you need a dose of family nostalgia.
When you have an excess of dried fruit.
When you want a cake that doesn’t require any equipment beyond a bowl, a pair of hands and a spoon.
When you need a cake that will freeze well.