This is, a preserving pan. It’s not a perfect, heavy bottomed, beautiful preserving pan. But this preserving pan belonged to my Grandma. My dad’s mum. And not long after she passed away, I was given this pan, along with a couple of WI cookery books which are now out of print.
Jams and chutneys are still relatively experimental to me. Ask me to bake a cake or a pie or to whip up a sugar free alternative and I’m filled with confidence but pectin tests, setting points and sugar thermometers fill me with fear.
So why the fascination with this pan? Well it belonged to my Grandma, who was just lovely and gentle and always made beautiful Grandma like pies and jam and puddings. One of my earliest memories is of picking daisies for my Grandma, which she lovingly put in an egg cup and displayed in her kitchen. One of my last memories of my Grandma, years after she had two massive strokes that changed her life completely, is of helping her to make a cake. It was something she’d always loved doing but the strokes had sapped not only her co-ordination and muscle function but also her confidence. She was shocked that I used baking powder (she never did) but still enjoyed the fruits of our labour.
I should also say here that whilst I am something of a health fanatic and believe that sugar really is the root of much health evil, I love baking. And I love baking because you (excuse the sap) bake with love to make people smile. No one ever bakes a cake for someone they dislike. And the pleasure a piece of cake can bring, even to someone who has little perceived quality left in their life is immense. Both my Grandma, and her daughter, my Aunty Brenda who passed away earlier this year had a love of cake. Both finished their days as very different people. Their disabilities, my Grandma’s strokes and my Aunty’s MS had taken away many of the pleasures I’m sure I take for granted in my life, and although both could say very little in the years before they died, I can always remember them saying, ‘mmmm … cake.’
And there is another, massive reason why I’m so fond of this pan which I associate with all the gentleness of my Grandma, and that is my Grandad, her husband, who is still alive but who I no longer have a relationship with. You see I fell in love with a beautiful man called Chris. My soul mate. From our first few dates I knew Chris was THE ONE and walking down the aisle to marry him was the most, on path, spiritual moment of my life. When I walked down the aisle I swear I actually caught a glimpse of heaven.
Grandad and I always used to speak. Lots. We’d have great chats on the telephone. He would ask all about Chris. We could talk in a way he couldn’t talk with other people. I’d say we had a special relationship. I saw through the anger and the front and we’d talk about how he felt and what was really going in in my life. He would tell me stories about the time he met my Grandma, as a beautiful young girl with stunning blue eyes. He would take me back to both happy and painful memories. I had an understanding of him beyond the snappy, agitated, angry at life man he could often appear to be.
But then one day he saw a picture of Chris and discovered he was black. And suddenly everything changed. I knew he disapproved and that he didn’t want for us to have children, since they might turn out brown. I found it difficult to understand but having a relationship with a black man gives you a very steep learning curve with regards to racism and attitudes.
Chris didn’t come to my Grandma’s funeral. We hadn’t been together for long and it felt too soon to go there. So at my Grandma’s funeral I felt very much alone. But when my Grandad, stood, frail and sobbing at the end of the pew, I sidled up to him and held his hand. In spite of my hurt and anger I held his hand because Grandma hadn’t been like that.
A month before our wedding, I wrote my Grandad a letter. I felt it was the right thing to do. I asked if he might actually meet Chris. He never has. I got a letter back telling me that he had no desire to do this and that he believed that we would live to regret our marriage and that by marrying we would offend a great many people. I took that as his answer and have not spoken with him since. Something I still find very hard.
When in 2010 I gave birth to the most beautiful baby boy in the world, Isaac, I fully understood the grievous offence he had caused my family. My Grandad has never acknowledged his existence or asked after him.
My Grandad is the person in my life who daily I struggle to forgive.
But, my Grandma was totally different. She always asked after Chris. Even though when I’d visit her after her strokes she struggled to speak or hold conversation, she would always ask about Chris and my ‘love life.’
So because of my Grandma’s gentleness and how she helped me to learn that baking is about love. And because of that constant wrangle of wanting to have a relationship with my Grandad but also knowing I need to put my own family first. And because I know I still need to forgive daily, whenever I use my Grandma’s preserving pan I feel I’m beginning to forgive.