My Kiwi Grandma may have been an average cook, but she was a baker par excellence…
As a child I was fascinated with her kitchen: she had a row of old fashioned drawers, built into the cabinet at the end of her kitchen. The handles were unusual, they were recessed into the drawers, with a little metal loop that also recessed into the handle itself. Everything stayed flush with the cabinets when they were closed. I adored those handles.
The draws that were extra special were at the bottom of the cabinet ensemble, they were longer than they were wide and when you pulled each of the handles at the top, the drawers would tilt forwards towards you, the top of the drawer would be nearest to you and the bottom staying flush with the rest of the cabinets, so when pulled out it made a triangle shape.
These bins were lined and filled to the brim with flour, various types of sugars and ingredients that she used often in her baking. No plastic containers in sight. Her baking bowls were a thick plain crockery and Gran could beat up cream that came in the short, solid glass bottles in no time flat with her solid hand egg beater. It had a smooth easy action that even kids could manage and an even smoother wooden handle from constant use. Modern experts in kitchen gadgetry should take note: this was my favourite utensil in all Grandma’s kitchen. It may have been called an egg beater but I think it actually spent most of it’s working life creaming butter and sugar and whipping umpteen half pints of cream.
Cake, biscuits (cookies), slices (bars) in this home were made and stored in large metal tins with airtight lids that had faded pictures from various advertisements or floral arrangements. Wonders emerged from those tins.. delectable delights of cookies topped with homemade marshmallow, chocolate chip cookies, muffins lighter and tastier than any available in shops nowadays were among the vast rotation of delights that she made regularly . Scones emerged fresh out of the oven were light as air and were to die for. … served warm, dripping with lashings of strawberry, raspberry or apricot jam that came from the laden garden that started a few steps beyond the back door and cream freshly whipped with my favourite egg beater.
The fruits and veggie garden were pretty much Granddad’s domain, the flowers ( mostly roses) in the front garden were Grandma’s pride and joy.
Granddad was of the generation who enjoyed a solid but monotonous menu of meat and three veg, the latter severely overcooked by todays standards, and items like rice contributed to maybe 10 % of the years diet and pasta pretty much never. Potatoes, boiled or mashed were the mainstay of the week and he took a packed lunch every day of his working life : sandwiches with home made corned beef, cheese and homemade pickles, bacon and egg pies, mince pies ( ground beef ) or chicken pies: home made and hearty fare.
I spent many happy hours in my Grandma’s kitchen and having one of the few working mothers of my generation, I learned many a thing there that I never had the opportunity to learn at home. Most of all, I learned a love of home cooking and a delight in producing food with your own hands that people adore. I learned that “simple” ingredients can produce magic when treated well and that the difference between fresh picked garden produce and what’s on offer days old at the supermarket is massive.
These days I live on the other side of the world in a large apartment with no garden… I dream that one day I will have a garden like Grandpa’s… one day, it’s a dream at least. On the other hand I try daily to have a kitchen like Grandma’s … o.k., yes with some rather major differences: I adore cooking with an international selection of ingredients, if it’s not offal, then we have probably tried it (or will one day). We try and eat healthily and encourage our children to too… so the baking is far less than in Grandma’s day. I also work full time so the practicalities of time are also a factor… but most of all, Grandma’s spirit is alive and well in my kitchen, I learned from her one of the many legacies that I hope most to instill into my children: a love for homemade food.
Grandma’s best advice: ( the bakers amongst you will especially understand) ” the most important things you will ever need in your kitchen are: clean hands and strong arms.“
.. and if only I had been wise enough then to have added: …. ” and a brilliant egg beater” .