I’ve always been a bit of a sentimental old fool: I am a hoarder of immense proportions, and can vividly remember filling the tiny alcoves of my printer’s tray on my bedroom wall with minute memorabilia. As a girl, I kept all of my toys, even when I had far outgrown my dolls, and I collected shiny wrappers and pretty packaging from favourite chocolate bars. I still have all of my birthday cards, even those from my first birthday: clearly my mother hoarded them for me, and anticipated I would become someone obsessed with nostalgia. My sentimentality and attachment to sweetie wrappers, clothing, and letters became all the more important in 1987, aged 13, when my world ended, and my mother died. Something in me went with her when she did: and I don’t think I will ever get it back. Of course, I began to hold on to every tangible thing I could that would help connect me somehow to her.
Mum’s letters to me at boarding school, her nursing qualifications: I kept them all. I studied them religiously, as if opening each precious document would soothe my inexorable pain and miraculously bring her back. Trawling through mum’s memories didn’t soothe or bring her back, of course it didn’t, but I’m grateful I kept all of those items. Now I can look at them with greater appreciation and love, without the continuous bruising, salty wave of tears that swept over me in those horrendous early years. My mother was good at lots of things: in fact, she was good at pretty much anything. Sewing, cooking, baking, milking cows, putting out forest fires, teaching; everything mum turned her hand to, she excelled at. Except running without tripping over: she wasn’t the most agile of creatures, and I’m pleased to say I’ve inherited this daft ineptitude from her, a clumsiness which has caused me silly amounts of pain and hilarity over the years. However, what I also inherited from mum, besides the agility, were her cookbooks. Her sticky-backed-plastic wrapped notebooks, her spiral-bound scrapbooks filled with yellowed sellotaped collages of Pineapple Fluff and Chicken a la King: all of them I value more than most items I own.
I read them when I am feeling light-hearted and fairly strong, because seeing her happy, rounded script on the page is still sometimes too much for me to bear. I page through the recipes with nostalgia and fondness, and as I read her recipes for Date Pudding and Chicken Tetrazini I see her again- alive, in the kitchen, long-legged and smiling, taking brown bread from the oven, yelling for my brother, while opening a jar of her apricot jam (always made with dried apricots: that was the secret), lifting the pale white wax lid from the amber jam, and allowing me to dip my finger in the jar. When I read these recipes, and when I see her again, I do not feel that utter sadness from the early years, but rather a re-invigoration of sorts: I am ensuring, through my cooking and through the adaptation of recipes in my modern day kitchen, that her memory and the fond nostalgia live on.
Sadly, while we wait for establishments to get with the gluten free programme, we are just going to have to do it ourselves: and I have spent the last five years attempting to do just this. All recipes on the site can of course be adapted for those of you lucky people who can eat gluten: this was one of my other many reasons for writing these recipes: I want everyone to be able to enjoy them. The Plain Kitchen brings together adaptations of my old favourites, developments of new recipes, interpretations of delicious meals I have eaten elsewhere, and of course, recipes from the incredible women in my life: my mother, my aunts, my godmother, my friends: these are recipes of nostalgia for the modern kitchen.