Recently, by lucky happenstance, I ran across Aunt Margaret’s Pudding as I was browsing the online shop of – *wait for it* – HappenStance Press, a small indie publisher based in Fife, Scotland.
Truth is, I simply cannot resist a charming title, especially when it contains ‘Margaret’ (my mother’s name), and the word ‘pudding,’ which usually makes me want to hug myself, it’s so dang adorable.
Aunt Margaret’s Pudding, by British poet Alison Brackenbury, is a collection of poems and recipes inspired by her paternal grandmother Dorothy Eliza Barnes (“Dot”).
Dot (b. 1894) worked as a professional Edwardian cook in Nottingham before marrying a shepherd and living in various cottages around Lincolnshire. She recorded her family’s favorite recipes in a black notebook which Brackenbury later inherited along with Dot’s wooden desk.
The poems are not only a revealing bit of family history, but an interesting glimpse of early 20th century East Midlands farm and country life. This was a time when almost everything was homemade, people walked to work, and neighbors “saved” each other (when Dot was bedridden after the birth of her fourth child, one of her neighbors cooked and washed for Dot’s husband and children for weeks).
Dot herself used to feed itinerant farm workers and invited children waiting at the school bus stop near her gate in for sweets. Practical, frugal, hardworking, and generous, Dot lived a quiet, isolated life. It is interesting to see that her smudged notebook contains not only her small, neat penmanship, but the hands of other women, suggesting that Dot liked to collect recipes from friends and neighbors. Their shared lives were “rich with old knowledge and individual talent.”
Enjoy a little taste of Brackenbury’s book with two sample poems and a recipe. Many thanks to Alison for permission to share her poems and for providing the wonderful photos!
DOT But you were tiny. Not one toe could stretch from sofa to the floor. Unwise to marry a tall man? For the fourth child left you bed-bound, so kind neighbours cooked. Your eyes were weak, yet blue as harebells. You would go sleepless, to cram old trunks with cake the men took to the Royal Show. I have one picture, leather-bound: you as a young, still-anxious cook, flowered velvet in your collar's tuck. Like food, you could make cash go round. Only your hair grew wild. Its fine strong waves defied your careful buns. French marigolds by your washing line met cabbage, hoed by husband, sons. You never cut your springing hair. Time washed past you like rain, your skin so soft a child's lips would sink in. My face, rough from hill wind, stays bare of blusher, gloss. No powder tins littered your rooms. I stay up, too, cook, type, as horizons dim. My father said I looked like you. * INGREDIENTS Carrots kept Christmas pudding plain. No gold leaf flattered Nottingham. Choclate -- you wrote, brisk, young. What sweetness touched your tongue? Your first friends were cornflour, ground rice. Your middle age still sang with spice, spooned, generous to a fault. Cinnamon. Ginger. Salt? Steam smudged your letters. Leather Cups? I squint. The words are: Quaker Oats. Your trust in brand names shone. King, Country, only one. You knew dessert. You wrote the old name: cocoanut. Through bright Treacle I see the dark Imperial tree. A married student, money short, I spooned rough ground rice at the start -- strong, workaday, low-cost -- like all the tastes we lost.