A cloud of witnesses in my kitchen

messy kitchen

I spent Friday in the kitchen, creating a whirlwind of pots, pans, spoons and measuring cups. I was co-hosting a baby shower that evening and had desserts to make for 20 wonderful women.

As always, it wasn’t quite as smooth a process as I always have in my mind. Less unruffled-Nigella-Lawson, more Monica-Geller-at-Thanksgiving. I had forgotten to buy chocolate, a vital ingredient in chocolate meringue pie. And then the first round of mini pastry cases shrunk beyond repair in the oven. I decided to convert them into strawberry tarts and added cream to the shopping list of things to pick up from the garage down the street. I needed baking beans, but didn’t have any. So I poured dry lentils into the second batch of pastry cases and said a wee prayer that it would work. Amazingly, it did.

Cooking mishaps used to make me so flustered. I’d panic, I’d feel dejected and a bit of a failure. Nowadays, it’s more irritating than tear-inducing. When something goes a bit pear-shaped, I fondly recall the moment my mother stormed out of our rented holiday narrow boat after her often-cooked toad-in-the-hole dinner went horribly wrong. And I laugh at the memory and set about seeing what I can salvage from the mess.

More than ever before, I feel the presence of the women in my family when I cook. My mum, who taught me to bake delicious coffee cake as soon as I was old enough to hold a wooden spoon and long before I actually liked drinking coffee. Every time I pull my handheld electric whisk out, she’s there in my mind, standing in front of the counter by the window, whisking up some cream or egg whites, showing me how to save it if I beat the cream too long. Her sense of generous hospitality is my guide.

Every time I pull out the glass mixing bowl, or set some hot scones to cool on the metal rack, I remember my Nana who used these very ones before me. I remember my earliest memory of her, teaching me how to measure out flour into the old-fashioned scales with the weights until each side balanced. I remember the Christmas many years later when she gave my sister and I the brown mixing bowls, as we sat in her small room in the nursing home. How we all laughed and ate afternoon tea sitting on the floor around the little coffee table. And how, even though she was already so forgetful, so frail, that day she laughed and was happy.

Whenever I make cherry buns or meringue or rock buns, it’s my Granny who’s standing next to me, telling me what to do, overseeing my work. And I remember (even though this can’t be my own memory, but one given to me) sitting as a wee child on the freezer at her house while she peeled carrots and made soup for lunch. I remember having to help her reach the higher cupboards, after I already passed her in height at eleven years old and being sent into the cold larder for missing ingredients.

And now, I also have my sweet mother-in-law who buys me Danish cookbooks to bake new recipes from – most recently the chilli pistachio cookies that Rasmus declared a success and my bible study ladies demanded the recipe for. And I remember the way that baking has truly been a way for us to bond while our language skills are still improving towards the level of heart-to-heart conversations.

Today is Mothering Sunday in the UK. Today is the day the children would come to church early in the cold spring sunshine carrying arms of daffodils and early flowers to bind into messy posies that would be laid in big beautiful heaps on the old stone font, until the moment came in the service to take them and give them out to every woman in the church. To our own mothers and grandmothers. To the mothers with children too little to collect a posy, to the mothers whose children had flown the nest, to all our spiritual mothers and aunts and grandmas sitting there, the women who taught us and scolded us and hugged us and loved us.

And on Friday I remembered them all as I cooked up a storm in honour of another soon-to-be-mama who is so precious to me. I felt their presence, their influence, their support, and I was so grateful for them.

And so I’m wishing a Happy Mothering Sunday, to all the many beautiful women who have been real or spiritual mothers to me in my life.

And to my own wonderful mum – I love you always. (And the card is on the way, but may be late because I forgot and Jen had to remind me – I know, she’s the better daughter ;))