My granddaughter Rachel and I have a history of cooking googie eggs. When she was four she stood on a chair to reach the kitchen bench, cracked eggs and stirred the mixture into the frypan with a wooden spoon. Now that she’s seven Rachel reaches the bench on her own and we have graduated to more sophisticated dishes like sponge cake and (very soon) pumpkin soup.
The recipes are my mum’s. I sat at her kitchen table and took notes. Now I am passing the decades’ worth of accumulated culinary wisdom on to Rachel who is the only person currently interested in cooking. Rachel and I pore over my collection of recipes and decide on one dish each time she visits. I teach her about the importance of pre-preparing the ingredients and the trick of clearing away as we go along. We discuss family gatherings and the vital role that sharing meals plays in keeping us all together.
We talk as we bake. We discuss what she’s reading right now (Enid Blyton’s The Far Away Tree). Rachel tells me about her school friends, her teachers and her favourite subject which seems to be maths. I admit that I was a dunce at that subject which she finds hilarious. Despite my showing her pictures of myself in better days, she can’t imagine her wrinkly old Nan ever being young and finds it extraordinary that an adult can’t do absolutely everything well. It’s a revelation. Despite it all she asks me to test her. I oblige but when the time comes I will send her to ask those maths wizards her uncle or her dad who I suspect are throwbacks.
I like to think that my job is to complement all the other resources in Rachel’s life. Today’s parents are time poor and often rely on the extended family to help out with what they once had had time to do in those leisurely days of dad at work, mum at home and everybody in their appointed places. Rachel can count on the uncles for maths, the great uncle knowledge of contemporary music is encyclopaedic, the great aunt provides support for all things literary and the grandfather gives piano and chess lessons. And in the twilight of her life Rachel’s grandma has been reactivated for service above and beyond the call of duty. This has given her a new lease on life.
As a mother of sons I missed out on all those girlie type activities. Don’t get me wrong, my sons and I have our own memories to draw on, but they were never interested in cissy stuff that entailed hanging around the kitchen for longer than it took to scoff down a meal (and under protest wash a dish). And you can’t paint a boy’s toe nails or go shopping with boys. They will pick a top and a pair of jeans in five minutes flat then want to move on to more important things.
This is why it has been a delight to discover a whole new world of sugar and spice and everything nice. Rachel and I are building on the foundations of our own tradition through cooking, giggling and deep and meaningful conversation. It is my hope that when she’s whipping up a chocolate torte in her own kitchen Rachel will look back at us the way we were (my) wrinkles and all and treasure the memories.