Journal

Recipe Book Inspiration

Being inspired by old recipe books

A recipe can make you travel through time. Seeing it, handwritten, on an old piece of paper can take you back to your grandmother’s kitchen. Or it could be the smell of that recipe as it bakes in the oven or simmers away on the stove that makes the years peel away. Then there’s the taste. As soon as you put it in your mouth pictures from the past pop into your head.

One of the key strands of my novel is my main character’s relationship with her Grandmother. Her grandmother was a home baker and cook which has a big impact on my main character. It inspires her in a variety of ways.

This got me thinking about who inspired me to bake all those years ago.

There was my mother, who, with her trusty Be-Ro recipe book, would teach me to weigh the ingredients, mix and crack eggs. She still has this recipe book, I have it next to me as I type. She bought it years ago, before decimalisation, for one and six. It is battered and a little torn but it is a well-used, well-loved baking recipe book.

Even looking at it now, the girl wearing the red jumper, with hair a similar colour to mine…the memories this recipe book conjures up. I would sit and read it as a child for hours. When I thumb through I can see the animal shape biscuits we would make from a rich biscuit dough, a rather retro Christmas cake (well, retro now, it wasn’t then) decorated with royal icing – mum always used to make royal icing and peak it into snow drifts, with marks where Santa’s sleigh had been. You can’t do that with the supermarket ready-rolled stuff we have now. Then there are apple fritters. Yum, apple fritters.

We never had supermarket bought cake as children. Ever. (Cakes from the bakers, yes, especially an Elephant’s Foot). And to my shame I was occasionally jealous of some of my friends who had bought cake. It always looked so exciting, so vivid. Then I would bite into it and *puff* my jealousy would evaporate.

My mum also has a handwritten notebook, falling apart at the seam, of various recipes that were given to her. Shortbread – which I think was my nana’s recipe. I love my mum/nana’s shortbread. Mum would make it and store it in her tupperware box. Then there is ginger cake, pineapple cheese cake (made with cottage cheese and quite frankly, sorry mum, it sounds revolting – I don’t remember this from my childhood) as well as Aunt May’s Cake – consisting mainly of all-bran and chopped dates.There is also a little doodle in the middle, I like to think it’s by me but it could have been my sister, and a shopping list for corks, yeast and bottles – and shoe polish. (And now I’m remembering my mum and dad’s home brewing phase…)

Then there is my grandmother’s notebook. I asked to borrow it as part of my novel research. There is a piccalilli recipe, marmalade, damson jam, tea loaf, coleslaw, weetabix loaf and mincemeat plus lots and lots of others. Her legendary pickled onion recipe isn’t in there though, I’ll have to ask her for that.

My other grandmother died a few years ago. I don’t have any of her recipe books, although she quite possibly kept many of them in her head. But I do have her lemon cake recipe. I think of her every time I make it.

In fact, I think of all these three women as I bake. Hopefully my children will think of me many years in the future when they bake and have my handwritten recipes.

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3 Comments

  • Reply Kate

    Lovely post, Helen – can’t wait to read the book! Very evocative and that photo on the book cover is so Janet and John but wonderful too. My mum had a Robert Carrier recipe folder as well as lots of other cookbooks, now those were retro!

    1st February 2015 at 1:34 pm
  • Reply Lizzie Woodman

    I love the Be-Ro book. I still use it every week and it brings back great memories for me of my childhood. Loving your blog!

    29th February 2016 at 1:27 pm
    • Reply Helen Redfern

      Thank you so much, Lizzie. Yes, I still use the Be-Ro book now. It is normally the first book I put my hand on!

      29th February 2016 at 2:18 pm

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