Recipes from our Grandmothers

I have written many times already about a tradition of food hospitality in my family. The Mothers' Day weekend has had me thinking about it again - this time about my grandmothers and the food I remember them cooking.

The daffodils at the head of the page are a reminder of my maternal grandmother. She loved the spring, and Grandad planted large numbers of daffodil bulbs in the borders around their front garden. He would always cut a few for her when they came out, which she would place in a glass to brighten up the house when the dreariness of winter was past. I've inherited her love of them. They are so simple, bright and cheery. I always keep an eye out for the first ones to bloom: I see it as proof that spring has finally arrived. Once or twice, I've bought a bunch and absent-mindedly reached into the cupboard for a glass to put them in. Some habits die hard! This winter and spring have been particularly difficult for us all, so I offer the image of these lovely, simple flowers to all my readers. I hope I can do something to keep you cheery and hopeful in these days of isolation and anxiety.

My sisters and me with Mum's mum
Mum and Dad used to drop us off at my grandparents' every Friday afternoon, while they went to do the weekly shop at the supermarket. Grandma would make us tea of chips (fries), fish fingers and baked beans, followed by rice pudding. It was our favourite meal of the week. If the truth be known, I still prefer beans to mushy peas on my fish & chips and would happily eat fish fingers if I didn't fear being thought of as childish. The secret of Grandma's rice pudding was that she added evaporated milk to the mix. Although she always made it with whole milk, she didn't consider that creamy enough and added a can of evaporated to enrich it. My sister and I used to argue over which jam to finish it with: she liked blackcurrant, while I loved raspberry. More often than not, Grandma brought both to keep us happy.

Rice pudding 5oz (140g) short-grain rice
4oz (110g) caster sugar
2pt (1litre) whole milk
a small can of evaporated milk - ¼ pt (150ml)
1oz (25g) butter

Preheat the oven to gas 2, 140°C. If you have the choice, don't use a fan oven. You'll get a better skin using a standard convection oven. If you do use a fan oven, drop the temperature by 10-20 degrees.

Grease an ovenproof dish with some of the butter.
Add the rice, sugar and both types of milk. Give the mixture a good stir.
Float the rest of the butter in small pieces on the top of the milk and grate plenty of nutmeg over it all.Bake in the oven for 90 minutes. If it still looks quite liquid, give it another half an hour.Serve hot, topping each portion with a blob of your favourite jam.

Whenever Grandma came to our house, she would bring food with her. If they were babysitting, she would bring crackers and cheese, which she told us were Grandad's. It felt deliciously naughty to be stealing his supper, and it took me to adulthood to realise she really packed them for us. If she came to us for lunch or tea, then she would bring a steamed syrup pudding. I think she brought it because it was my Mum's favourite, but we all enjoyed it. My Mum once asked her for the recipe, and Grandma said she mixed "some" suet with "enough flour for the size of pudding you want" and "pretty fair of milk." We're often told how accuracy is most important when you're baking, so I can only conclude that she could estimate a quantity of flour to within and eighth of an ounce! I've recently been researching older pudding recipes and tried one out on my Mum not so long ago. She confirmed the taste was nice but the texture wasn't as light as Grandma's and suggested some improvements. As my sister pointed out, though, lightness is not exactly the hallmark of a suet pudding, and the difference may simply due to my cooking it in the microwave - something Grandma would never have had the option to do. I suggest you stick to tradition and steam it gently for a couple of hours.

Golden syrup pudding
6 tbsp golden syrup
8oz (220g) Self-raising flour (or plain/all-purpose flour with 2 tsp of baking powder added)
a pinch of salt
2 oz (55g) shredded suet
about ½ pt (230ml) whole milk

Grease a 2pt/1 litre pudding basin with butter. If it has a lid, grease the underside of the lid, too. If there is no lid, grease a sheet of greaseproof paper and lay it buttered side up on a sheet of foil. This will be used to cover your pudding.

Put 4 tablespoons of golden syrup in the bottom of the basin.

Put the suet and salt in a mixing bowl and sift in the flour (and baking powder if using). Add the remaining syrup and give the whole thing a bit of a mix. You won't be able to mix it thoroughly, so don't try. Add the milk a little at a time, folding it into the flour until the mix has the consistency of thick porridge. Pour this onto the syrup in the basin and close the lid. If you're not using a lid, fold a pleat in the paper and foil, place them over the bowl (with the buttered paper towards the pudding mix) and tie very tightly with string.

Steam for 2 hours. It's fine to keep the pudding on a low heat for a bit longer if you don't need it immediately. To serve, remove the lid or wrappers, place a dish on top and flip the whole thing over, so the basin is now on the top. Carefully remove the basin and serve the pudding hot with custard.

My Dad's mum was already quite infirm when I was a child. She had been diagnosed with Parkinson's in her forties, and by the time I knew her, cooking for lively children would have been too much. My Grandad did much of the cooking in later years and was rightly proud of his pie-making skills. My Dad, however, remembers family meals at home very well. He tells me that Grandma's cooking was basic (he was born just before the war) but wholesome. Whereas Grandad disliked onions, she loved them, so she would cook a stew with a whole onion inside, then remove it before serving the family. She would then eat her own helping - complete with the whole onion - in the kitchen, unnnoticed.

Dad's mum

Everyone has some dish they think their mum cooked better than anybody. My Dad compares all potato cakes unfavourably with his mum's. These 'cakes' are a way to use up leftover mashed potatoes, or possibly a way to make potatoes go further. I've done both over the years - spinning out spuds with flour as a student, recycling leftover mash as an adult to accompany a cooked breakfast. There's little to them but mashed potato and plain flour. You'll need a floury variety of potato like Maris Piper, Desiree or King Edward. Resist the temptation to make your potato into some kind of luxury purée with cream and butter. You'll end up using too much flour to dry it out. If, like me, you do like the taste of butter with your potatoes, I suggest you cut the potato cakes open while they're hot and slip in a blob of butter to melt into the soft centre and all over your plate.

Potato cakes
4oz (110g) plain flour
12 oz (330g) peeled potatoes 
a little milk

Pre-heat the oven to gas 4, 160°C fan.

Cut the potatoes into chunks and boil in salted water until they will easily cut with a knife. Drain them and return the pan to the heat for a minute or so, giving it a shake every few seconds to move the potatoes around. This should take any remaining moisture off them. Off the heat, mash them well with a masher or ricer. You might need to add just a touch of milk to loosen it enough to mash smoothly, but go very carefully: the more liquid you have in the potato, the more flour you're going to have to add.

Sift about a quarter of the flour into the bowl and give the mix a good stir with a wooden spoon. Add more flour in stages until the potato starts to come together as a dough and comes away from the side of the bowl when you stir it.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and flatten it to an even 1" (2cm) thick. Cut out cakes with a pastry cutter. Alternatively, you can take a small handful of the dough at a time, roll it into a ball, then flatten it into a cake. Place onto a lightly greased baking sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for about 2 hours.

I hope you've enjoyed this dig around in the tastes and smells of my family history. I'm collecting my family's recipes in a scrapbook to hand onto my grandchildren when they're older. What are the dishes you remember with fondness? Do you still make them yourself? Leave a comment below to share a memory or two.

Next time: Staying positive when you're self-isolating.


  1. It is fascinating to read of other people's family recipes. My mum used to make something called Olivers Chocolate Pudding and it was my favourite as a small child. It's one where you make a cake mix, cover it in sauce and the cake rises to the top. I do have the recipe but it never tastes like mum made.

    1. Thanks for taking time to comment. I'm pleased you enjoy my blog. Food memories are always flavoured with a drop of nostalgia, so aren't always accurat. I'm sure your pudding is, in reality, every bit as good as your Mum's.

  2. Lovely post. My mum wasn't a great cook but a better baker, though she had a limited repertoire. She did make wonderful apple pies in lard pastry. I'm gluten intolerant but have found ways to satisfy my pastry cravings. Also, I do a very light golden syrup sponge (gf flour, oven baked not steamed) with custard, which is my go-to comfort food, reminding me of the wonderful cooks from my infants' school.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Food is a powerful trigger for good memories, isn't it?


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