With the fairly recent addition of a small person to my household, I came to the dawning realisation that I was going to have to re-learn to bake. Small people don’t want to make duck a l’orange, they want fairy cakes, rock cakes, sponge fingers, Victoria sponges, chocolate brownies, ginger biscuits and butter flapjacks – all heavily dosed with sprinkles.
I was hoping my mother would put down her knitting (she doesn’t) and take up the mantle, but it’s unfair to rely on my marvellously modern mother to play Grandma and dust off the Mrs Beetons to teach her granddaughter baking. To be honest my mother is more likely to teach her how to make a deadly frozen margarita, how to choose the most expensive restaurant from the Michelin guide or which are the best glasses for champagne than the technique for the perfect fruit scone. And frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Though this does give a rather unfairly frivolous impression of my mother. Her generation were, after all, raised in the austerity of the 40s and 50s, before becoming adults in the 60s, rocking to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. So whilst my mother lives a much wilder, more exciting life than me – being chased by elephants, riding camels across the Sahara, showing beautiful young barmen how to make a proper martini etc – she still knows how to bake and feed ten people with a fish, some gelatine and a slice of mouldy bread.
So it brought me much delight recently to walk into my mother’s kitchen to find my two-year-old daughter standing on a chair pulled up to the kitchen counter, face covered in chocolate icing and clothes covered in flour shouting “look mummy, I helping Grandma”. My mother was grinning and quietly tidying the spreading mess as little greedy hands rubbed around in the mixing bowls. Suddenly I was reminded of my own grandmother – soft, plump hands held in hers as she showed me how to rub together the sugar and butter and her laughter as she explained my hands were far too hot and I needed gnarly old ones like hers for pastry.
So no, I will not be passing the Beeton completely – my mother has far too many dolphins to swim with and mountains to cycle up – but I’m glad my daughter will have these times with her grandmother because I realise how important the memories and lessons are to us. I look at my mother’s hands now and in them I see my grandmother and when I look at my hands I see my mother’s as they were. Tapping out the same rhythms on the table, holding the same little squidgy hands in ours and shaking a wooden spoon covered in chocolate at naughty toddlers making single-mindedly for the cake, to squeals of laughter.