Saturday, 9 April 2016

Baking with Nana

It’s a Saturday. Of late, if my mother is expecting family for a visit, she will have baked in advance of our arrival.  But today, she is baking for a family get-together tomorrow.  My little girl offers to help. 

The whirring food mixer is noisy, so they shut the kitchen door while they work, just Nana and Mya.  My daughter looks at me in away that tells me that no one else is invited, including me.

In an instant, I’m back there.  My bare legs against the wooden kitchen chair, too short to reach the ground.  The radio on low in the background.  I get the job on lining the bun tray with bun cases.  (Yes, buns, not cupcakes, just buns). I push the corrugated waxed papers gently into the moulds, but they pop back out again.  The weight of the bun mixture will soon weigh them down.  I know that there is raw egg in the mixture, but I put that knowledge to the back of my mind as I lick the spoon.  It’s hard not to get it on my face.  If I’m in luck, there’s extra at the bottom of the mixing bowl.  Sometimes I can feel the crunch of sugar on my teeth.
On a productive day, there are apple tarts too.  My job is laying out the sliced apples in the pastry case, amazed at how they begin to brown so quickly.   Now, the best bit.  Dipping the thick, green apple skins in the sugar bowl.  The zing of the sour skins against the sweet injection of sugar.  Eating them until you had a pain in your belly.  I marvel at how deftly my mother shapes the edge of the tarts to create a frilly skirt around it. 

With left over pastry, jam tarts are made.  Making best use of the pastry to make as many tarts as you can.  I decorate them with thick swirls and plaits, that always taste slightly raw when cooked, compared to the thin, crisp bases.

Mam's brown bread. Taking it out of the oven and knocking on its base - a hollow sound indicating that it was ready. A slatter of butter and jam - what more would you want ?
The smell of baking is wafting from the oven now.  I can barely wait to taste a bun, fresh from the oven.  The wash up begins.  It seems like every utensil in the kitchen has been used.  The residue of the now watery bun mixture slides down the sink. 

I chitter chatter with stories of school and adventures, exaggerating to impress my Mam.  This sacred space, precious mother and daughter time, created by a closed kitchen door and a food mixer working on overdrive.  Occasionally we are interrupted, one of my brothers reporting on an incident in the sitting room, before running off again.  I can hear a wrestling match on TV.   Granny Russell, head down, working at her Singer sewing machine.

Later my mother remarks that she thought that she had made five apple tarts, but can only see four on top of the freezer, where she left them to cool.   A few days later, a neighbour arrives with a clean, empty dish.  He was in our house that Saturday, washing his hands after helping my father down the yard.  He spotted the apple tarts cooling and took it upon himself to take one home with him.  ‘It was lovely Kay.  God bless your hands.’

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