There’s been sadness in my family lately with the passing of our matriarch. At 96, the death of Mollie was not unexpected, but sad nonetheless and a reminder of what does actually happen at the end of these crazy lives we lead.
We watched her spend a couple of months in and out of hospital, growing frail, then drifting away from us before dying. I watched a 96-year-old woman say goodbye to her 76-year-old son and saw the twinkle of mummy-love still glistening in her eye. It was a life affirming moment.
Sometimes I can’t wait for this stage of parenting small children to be over. Other days I’m almost distraught at how quickly it’s all flying by. But no matter how ephemeral this stage of mothering is, the indulgent love lasts a lifetime and I will adore my girl and my boy forever. They will be able to grow old and experienced and frail themselves and still they will be my joy.
Clearing out Granny’s small apartment, we were surprised by the amount of nostalgia. The cups we’d drunk from as kids, the paintings we’d looked at. The patterns from a lifetime of the domestic arts that I’m salvaging in the hope that one day I’ll have the skills to use them.
Tucked away on a kitchen shelf was a pure gem. Not Granny’s, but my great-grandma’s copy of “The Commonsense Cookery Book”. A 1914 first edition of the classic that has sold over a million copies. In terrible condition, with newspaper clippings stuck into spare pages. It’s a fantastic piece of family and social history.
I brought it home and realised that I also have a copy. A shiny, barely-flicked through one that I bought last year.
I’m drawn to the simplicity of heirloom recipes. I love the way they’re written. Back in the days when nothing needed explanation and things barely needed measurement. When women at home didn’t need to have ‘cream the butter and sugar’ explained to them. We’re a pretty hopeless, unskilled lot these days.
Looking through my two matching copies is like some strange circle of life and an instant glimpse of the changes to motherhood and wifery over the last century. The new shiney copy isn’t the same as the original, it’s been revised and updated. What’s been left out? Well the whole chapter on “Invalid’s and children’s cookery”, with recipes for junket, egg flip (with sherry) and beef tea custard.
So perhaps some things are best in the past. But I think next time one of my kids is sick, I might be reaching for this simple piece of bliss…
(text from the 1914 edition of The Commonsense Cookery Book”)
1 teaspoon water
1 oz. sugar (2 level tablespoons)
1. Take yolks of 2 eggs and whites of 3 eggs.
2. Boil water and sugar.
3. Add it to the yolks.
4. Beat whites stiffly.
5. Have a hot plate ready.
6. Have some hot jam also.
7. Melt the butter in an omelette pan.
8. Add the yolks to the whites.
9. Mix well but lightly.
10. Pour into the pan.
11. Cook gently and shake occasionally till set.
12. When coloured slightly underneath, brown the top by placing in the oven or under the griller.
13. Lie it on to the hot dish.
14. Spread heated jam on one half.
15. Fold the other half over.
16. Serve at once.