Food Memories – A hommage to my Gran

My grandmother Rita English

There’s a TV show that I love airing at the moment called Masterchef Australia. The current show is season two, and I am as addicted as I was during the first season. Last nights episode was the first challenge for the top 24 contestants. They were challenged to make a dish based on a favorite childhood memory. It was a very emotional episode that got me thinking about my favorite childhood memories.

Some of my best memories revolve around helping (read hindering) my Grandmother in the kitchen. What I recall most strongly is helping her bake things for tea. Years ago she used to make her own koeksisters, or  milk tart and her granadilla cake. this changed in later years as she economized and had new favorites.

As a young child, She  knew all my favorite dishes and would make me lasagna when I returned from visiting my Father, or cook me spinach on toast for breakfast – yes I know it’s weird, but I went through a stage where that was what I wanted for breakfast – a seven year old addicted to spinach!

She is a fantastic cook, who loved entertaining, and had a group of friends who met for afternoon tea an Tuesday afternoons. Once a month or so it was my Gran’s turn to host the tea, and then she went into full production mode. She would make cakes, scones, little pizzas, and three kinds of sandwiches as well as other things.

Her crowning glory was her pavlova, which she made in an electric frying pan rather than her oven, and something that I have never managed to perfect. (I can’t find the recipe right now so will have to go through her file when I next visit) I remember one “tea” where everything seemed to go wrong. My poor Gran burnt two pavlova’s, the scones were too sour and did not rise, the cake fell flat. She was not in the best of moods, but my Grandfather and I loved eating the disasters! Chewy caramelized pavlova was not so bad. Eventually she calmed down and managed to pull off a fantastic tea as usual, but it shows that even the best of us can have a bad day.

My Gran's pav - I helped decorate!

Apparently in my youth I choose to “reorganize” my Gran’s recipe files for her (I have no memory of this, but get reminded every time anyone is searching for a recipe) and she could never be bothered to put them right. So she always had a vague idea where to find the recipes for certain things. Sadly she now had dementia and cannot remember things. Luckily she seems to remember long ago events, so she can still dig up the recipe if she knows what you are after.  This often means that I am paging through the jumble to find things. I’m loath to reorganize the files, as my Gran would then be very lost indeed, not that she cooks anymore, but if you give her the file, she flips fondly through and says things like “this was the recipe I made your father’s wedding cake from”.

Something that I recall we often made together even as a teenager was ice cream. So here is the recipe we used:

Rita English’s  Ice Cream

1 pint of cream

1 tin of condensed milk

4 eggs

1tsp vanilla


Separate the eggs. Beat the egg yolks and condensed milk in a bowl for about 3 minutes till light and fluffy. In a separate bowl beat the cream for about 3 minutes till it forms soft peaks. Fold into the egg mix. In a clean separate bowl, beat the egg whites till they reach stiff peak. Fold the egg whites into the cream mix. Place in a plastic tub and freeze for at least 4 hours. (These were the days before ice cream machines were in many households).


About michoenglish87

A wannabe foodie who loves trying new recipes and trying new ingredients. I hope to inspire people to try new things in the kitchen.
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One Response to Food Memories – A hommage to my Gran

  1. Cindy says:

    A lovely post, Michael, it is amazing how many of our childhood memories are informed by food.

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