We all have that friend. The one who quite literally keeps a dozen plates spinning when prepping a last minute Sunday lunch for a casual gathering of 8, divided nicely up into 4 adults and 4 mini hurricanes wrecking the house around her. That person is Shirley (and I am lucky enough to have many others equally amazing at feeding me!!), and last Sunday, my contribution to the running order is leaning against her worktop drinking tea, and eating crisps, watching the plates spin.
There’s a white sauce on the go for cauliflower cheese, gravy bubbling, parsnips being coated in honey ready to roast, potatoes on the boil (I have just watched her peel those with a knife with such skill that I am actually now worried she’s a secret Samurai), and the pot-roast that smells unreal already is getting an additional rosemary sprig, for good measure.
I’m not useless in the kitchen – I can rustle up something edible, and I enjoy cooking, but standing there in Shirley’s kitchen, it suddenly reminded me of being only as tall as the worktop, peering up on my tiptoes, and learning from my mum. It reminded me of that because I was watching one particular thing – her hands. Like I watched my mum’s hands while she worked.
What I never realised before was just how much I learned from her hands, and how much I remembered about them. Hands are the one thing that can’t hide – they reveal how physically hard you have worked, and they betray attempts to hide the aging process when the face & body can be altered. Disclaimer: I am not relating any surgical anti-ageing procedures to my mother!
I was fascinated by my mum’s smooth but weathered (sorry mum – I promise it is a compliment to your work ethic!) skin; how brown they were from being outside, and how they seemed to move so fast when baking bread or sewing a hem. I am not even a bit ashamed to say that I still bring my damaged clothes to my mum for repair, and occasionally things that I’m not sure how to wash. She’s the master, and I am not even at a standard high enough to call myself her apprentice!
I know what you are thinking – we are diving into the plunge pool of soppiness. Wrong. I am here to deliver hope, and I have good news from the cookery archives of Mary McKee. If there was one nugget (see what I did there) of wisdom I would pass on, from watching those hands, it is this:
Six, six, six and three
So long as you remember that, you are prepared for anything in this life. That, my friends, is the recipe for a Victoria sponge cake OR a batch of cupcakes.
6oz self-raising flour
6oz caster sugar
6oz butter (or stork margarine, which apparently according to mum makes a better cake)
Put it all in a bowl together, and mix it up with an electric whisk. Stick it in the oven at 170 Celsius for 20 – 30 minutes, depending on the tin.
And here’s the best part – that recipe makes a lemon cake if you add zest to the mix, a coffee cake if you add coffee essence, a chocolate cake if you add cocoa, and vanilla extract for a vanilla sponge.
It’s that simple. Which relates to mum’s other catchphrase, that has given me great confidence in just trying things:
If you can read, you can cook
Back to Shirley’s kitchen – we talked about the influence of our mothers in seeing their hands work and copying their style without even knowing it (including peeling a potato in 2.9 seconds), and we both knew we had taken it for granted. So to our mums, thank you. And to our kids – eat the cauliflower cheese and be glad of it!!