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52 Ancestors: Week 5 – In The Kitchen

I am taking part in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge for 2021. The challenge is organised by Amy Johnson Crow who provides a weekly writing prompt. This week the prompt is In The Kitchen.

As soon as I saw this week’s prompt I knew I had to write about Grandma, my maternal grandmother. She was a great cook and baker. Had she been around now I’m sure we would have encouraged her to try out for The Great British Bake Off. She would be very proud that her great granddaughter aspires to appear on Junior Bake Off as soon as she is old enough.

Grandma, known to most of the world as Bessie Tomlinson, was born Blanche Elizabeth Wadsworth in Wickersley, Yorkshire in September 1916, the youngest of seven siblings. In 1943 she married my Grandpa, Eric Tomlinson, and moved to his home in Belper, Derbyshire. She lived with her in-laws for a while but in 1950 the family moved into the other half of the semi-detached house owned by the family. She remained in the same house for the rest of her life.

I’m amazed to find I can’t find a picture of Grandma’s kitchen, but it was very much a working environment, not a place for taking photographs.

There was a large, old kitchen table. A cloth would be over the table for meals and during the afternoon. The top had been replaced with formica at some stage before I remember. There was a drawer in the table which contained cooking utensils, it was really hard to slide it back into place. There was a sink and a square of worktop adjacent to it. An ancient boiler and gas cooker occupied what had been the space for a range. Next to that was a tall built in cupboard which contained cake tins and crisps in the bottom, and above that crockery, ingredients, medication and more cooking equipment in what felt to me a complete jumble though Grandma always knew exactly where to find everything. Even into her 90s some things in daily use where kept on the higher shelves which required someone as short as Grandma to climb on a stool to reach. The kitchen was also home to an under the counter size fridge, with a microwave on top.

The house also had a pantry, a sort of half cellar with steps leading down to a chest freezer and a stone slab covered in foodstuffs. There was usually a covered bowl of homemade “potted meat”, and tomatoes in a beautiful (though chipped and cracked) bowl in the shape of lettuce leaves. At the bottom of the stairs was a half bottle of whisky. It belonged to Grandpa but they were both tee-total. A shelf at head cracking height always contained ice-cream cones.

As a child I also remember a sack of flour was kept in the wardrobe in the back bedroom. Grandma made her own bread, and teacakes which were served sliced once vertically and once horizontally and slathered with butter. I remember once saying that I didn’t want butter, but she was horrified. I couldn’t be fed dry bread, we could afford butter. She was very much of the wartime generation.

Everyone who met Grandma enjoyed her baking but she really wouldn’t have understood a gluten free diet. Low fat was beyond her too. We were given bread with the drippings from cooked bacon, and encouraged to mop up any remaining fat on our breakfast plates. As a university friend said, she was the only person we knew who added fat to the pan before cooking bacon.

There was a huge range of cakes, some of those I remember were lemon curd tarts, rice krispie cakes made with melted Mars bars and an extra layer of chocolate on the top, fairy cakes, coconut macaroons and many more. Looking back I’m sad that she didn’t bake with her grand children, we were encouraged to eat all the results, but the baking was done before we arrived.

When we were clearing out her house in 2013 I found a notebook and collection of recipes in the hall cupboard. My delight soon turned to disappointment when I realised that her favourite recipes were entirely in her head and not written down. They’re gone for good. I do however have her mixing bowl and some serving spoons. They are all in regular use and remind me of her every time I get them out.

Denby mixing bowl and serving spoons I inherited from Grandma.
Some of Grandma’s recipe collection

Going back through the collection of recipes this afternoon I noticed a few that I thought must have been shared by family members, Kathleen’s date and walnut load, Irene’s choc balls and Joan’s rich cake. I called Mum and we think that that Kathleen would be my Great Aunt, Grandma’s elder sister, who would very likely have passed on a recipe. Joan might refer to her friend and 2nd cousin or to her niece.

We puzzled for a while over “Irene’s choc balls”, Grandma had a sister and a niece-in-law Irene but Mum remembers that neither were bakers. Then I read out the recipe and Mum remembered the event. My Dad had taken a recipe from a book and in his usual style substituted almost every single ingredient for something else. Somehow Grandma’s sister, my great auntie ‘Renee, tasted the result and loved them. Dad had to try to recall the recipe for Grandma to write down. I’m not sure if they were ever made the same, or indeed at all, ever again!

Sometime in the mid to late 1970s, while Grandpa was working as a school caretaker Grandma took an evening class in “continental cookery”. The only thing any of us remember from the classes is what Grandma always referred to as “Kipper Pidsa”. Should you wish to recreate this continental delicacy I found the recipe. Grandma was of the opinion that the teacher didn’t know what she was doing, and certainly didn’t know how to make bread. The teacher told them to roll the “pidsa” dough flat… Mum remembers the topping perched on the top of a bun. Fortunately I don’t remember being offered any.

A few days ago I asked my Facebook friends what they remembered about Grandma’s baking. Here are some of their comments.

Taking a break from baking.

2 replies on “52 Ancestors: Week 5 – In The Kitchen”

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