From the Kitchen of Mama J

Another exercise from Steering the Craft, this one playing with tenses and perspectives. Which version do you prefer?

Third person, all past tense

Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Janice logged in to the blog she’d created all by herself and hit the ‘new post’ button. This week’s recipe ‘From the kitchen of Mama J’ was a bread-and-butter pudding, done her own special way.

She put the title up on the page, then sat for a moment. How to describe this dish’s history?

The screen in front of her faded and in its place she saw her Gramma’s kitchen, how she’d had her visiting frock covered with a couple of tea towels. One with the short end tied around her neck, then tucked into the one tied around her waist.

She’d been put up on a chair, to better reach the table and Gramma had showed her how to grease the pudding bowl, then handed her thin, even slices of bread to arrange around the sides.

She scribbled on the notepad beside her keyboard. Be sure to mention that stale bread works better.

Although with all the preservatives in things these days, that slightly dry, stale bread was hard to come by. Bread these days was soft and perfect until the moment the entire loaf turned green from mould. And of course, it was all pre-sliced nowadays.

She’d been too young, that first time or two of making the pudding, to be allowed to slice the bread. But she’d arranged the layers and sprinkled the dried fruit and spices in between each layer.

Gramma had been a traditionalist when it came to baking, only raisins and cinnamon. It was Janice, as she’d grown, then married and had her own family to feed, who’d added the chopped dried apricots and dark chocolate chips. Who’d experimented with fruit bread, and sourdough loaf. Who’d decided to try using the roasting dish instead of the deep, round pudding bowl.

Not everything had worked, but enough had that if any of her kids or grandkids saw this post, they’d be on the phone to her, howling about how some evil woman on the internet had stolen her recipe.

They always joked about how all her recipes were secret and she’d take them to her grave. Much they knew. Her blog had ten thousand followers, from more than twenty different countries, and some publishing people had been in touch about a book deal. If it happened, she’d give every last member of her family a copy for Christmas.

She chuckled at the thought and started to type.

First person present and past tense

I sit down at the computer my family has set up for me and log into the blog they don’t know I have. Apparently, a woman of my age only wants YouTube videos of puppies and the ability to like her grandkiddies’ Instagram posts.

And I do, but I also like learning a little more about this new online world and also like that I’m more than just ‘Mum’ or ‘Granny’ to the people who read my weekly posts and get excited about trying a new recipe or sharing their own versions.

This week I’m posting my own Gramma’s recipe (such as it was) for bread-and-butter pudding. Now how to introduce it.

I open the door to my childhood in my mind and remember.

Gramma’s kitchen was all cupboards and countertops, arranged around a square, central table. The table was wood. Heavy, solid, and battered and smoothed with many years of use. A bit like my Gramma really.

She’d tut at my frilly visiting dress and cover it up with a couple of tea towels – her aprons were far too large for me. Then I’d be popped onto a chair, high enough to be able to reach into the deep, thick roundness of her ceramic pudding bowl and cover my fingers in butter trying to grease every bit of the inside. Of course, I’d then go to wipe my hands on my front, and it was only sometimes she managed to catch my fingers in a damp cloth first. Not that it mattered too much, the butter never made it through to my dress.

I smile, what in heaven had possessed my mother to always stuff me into Sunday best for Gramma visits? She knew we always went straight to the kitchen.

The bread placement was my next job, taking the slightly dried-out pieces as Gramma sliced up and buttered a pile from last weekend’s loaf. I would focus on covering every little shine of butter on each layer, sprinkling the raisins and cinnamon in between.

As I got older, I was allowed to do more, but I wasn’t allowed to make changes. The recipe had been good enough for her and her mother before her, it was good enough for me.

It wasn’t until I had a home and a kitchen of my own that I began to experiment, adding chopped, dried apricots for a bit of extra tang, and dark chocolate chips for a bit of extra decadence. It was probably just was well Gramma had already passed when I changed from the pudding basin to a wide, rectangular dish that meant everyone got to enjoy the golden crispness of the sugar-sprinkled top.

It’s funny. My family refer to my recipes as secrets and wonder how to coax them out of me, while ten thousand people on the internet, living on over twenty countries read, and try, them every week.

I’m having a meeting in the city on Wednesday with some publishing people. They say they’re interested in a book deal and have sent me some examples. If they’re serious, my family won’t have to wonder how to trick my recipes out of me, they’ll each get a full-colour collection of them for Christmas.

I chuckle at the thought of their expressions, and start to type.

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