The G Mart, my 85-year-old granny, worked all of her life in the local hospitals kitchen from the tender age of fifteen. Countless early mornings for 60 odd years she walked to and from work, enduring hours of cooking, peeling vegetables, carving meat, plating it all up and then the cleaning. She loved her job and only retired when they forced her to. She sat in the industrial sink on her last day while they doused her in flour, the cheesiest grin on a little old woman you’re ever likely to see.
I’m not even sure Gran is five foot. She has a tiny little body of probably less than 40 kilos wringing wet! Short pearl white hair, that’s freshly set every Friday. Daily she wears about sixteen layers of clothing whether it’s 15 degrees or 45; undergarments, a spencer, pair of stockings, sometimes another spencer, a dress or blouse, skirt or slacks, big woollen cardigan or jacket, then all refined with a scarf tied around her neck or beads and a pretty brooch. At 5 in the morning she’ll be dressed with her lippy on, ready for the day.
Most of my school holidays were spent with Gran. Mum would drive us up, drop us off and a fortnight later would return to collect us. I think Gran loved having us. She was always happy to see us. The bench would be piled high with the ingredients to bake and her little fridge would be full. My children have been lucky enough to experience the G Marts baking, memories they’ll treasure. Memories I’ll treasure, watching them with her. She would bake the entire time; bickies, tomato relish, sponges, honey joys that started oven fires, apple crumble, lamb cutlets, roast of every variety, her veggie soup, dog turds, raspberry slice, lemon merangue, lemon better, scones… I could go on for days. We would feel so bloody sick from being full, but we loved it. She loved it.
Marie biscuits, condensed milk, cocoa, coconut and a slug of sherry. To most, these ingredients are truffles, or for some they’re rum balls, but not in our family. They’re DOG TURDS. Yep, you read it right, dog turds. The bickies get smashed, all the wet ingredients go in the bowl with the bickies, add the other dry ingredients and then a ‘little slug’ of sherry, which turns out to be closer to a fucking cup! These turds will blow your head off sometimes if you let Gran pour the sherry. So, all the ingredients are in, mix it up to a doughy consistency and then start rolling between your hands. Not into balls though, into logs, little dog turd sized logs, then you plop those little logs into coconut and wallah, there you have it. A dog turd, so fresh it still has the morning dew on it! Or so my late Great Uncle Bob would say, as he flicked his leg up onto the kitchen table, relaxing back into the chair with his chewed match stick hanging out of the corner of his mouth. We would laugh so hard at Bob. He was the funniest man I knew.
The G Mart has a dress for every occasion; her street sweeping dress, to sweep the street in as the name suggests; house dresses, for house work, baking and cleaning; and the occasion dress, for events like weddings, funerals and the likes; she even had a couple of dresses that she wears when she goes up the Main Street. Everything has a use and purpose or she doesn’t need it, and every one of her things has its place. Nothing is idol, ever.
She rises before the sun rises and lays down before it sets. Well, that’s how she used to be, but age has caught up and you will catch her dozing on a couch watching the back of her eye lids, or kneeling on her chair at the kitchen table leaning over the daily paper doing her crossword with her eyes shut. Isn’t she clever!
The whole of Rainbow knows Gran for her shortbread, which really isn’t shortbread but more so a yo-yo dough, made into a variety of shapes, filled with vanilla icing. Square ones, flower shaped ones, long log ones, and a spiral one with a tiny little 1/4 of a glaced cherry in the center. These biscuits have one rule, and Gran won’t make them under any other circumstance; they have to be made before 6am in the morning. It’s too hot for them after that, and the mix apparently becomes ‘short’. You don’t argue with the G Mart, you just do, so if you want a ‘bickie making’ lesson, you best be there well before the sun gets up. She’ll be waiting there for you, at her bench, hair combed, beads on, lippy on and ready to bake.
As I roll a batch of Dog Turds for a funeral wake tomorrow, (not Grans!) I can’t help but think of my Granny. Baking is probably my one true love and I owe it to her. All the hours I stood behind the kitchen bench, peering over the bench top, watching her measure and weigh ingredients, scraping beaters within an inch of not being worth licking, kneading her yo-yo dough and while her back is turned reach up to sneak a small glob of the mix to eat.
That bench is where I learnt to bake. I bake because I love it, the way she loved it, the way Bob lived it as the towns Baker. Food brings people together, creates memories and shows love.
Make sure you turn the teapot twice clockwise and once anticlockwise!