“So, Juicy Lucy, talk me through your Balls.” I was asked by the speaker at The Bread and Jam Social evening.
“What or who was your inspiration, and why Balls?” He was clearly amused by my Juicy Lucy’s “Get A Load Of My Balls” T-shirt.
It was an easy question to answer. My inspiration in the kitchen was always My Nana.
Recently, when I passed the Hygiene 1 & 2 Courses, and then the Nutrition and Healthy Eating Certificates, I was reminded of the days I spent with her in the kitchen.
I Remember Watching My Hero Work
As I flashed-back to my 9-year-old self, sitting with my chin in my hands, elbows on the kitchen table, kicking my legs back and forth, I would watch my Nana work. I wondered what she might have to say now if she could see me in my Chef’s Whites, measuring and blending. Writing recipes, adding superfoods and exotic, freeze-dried powders (she would not have even heard of). What I wouldn’t give to spend a day in the kitchen with her now.
Taking Refuge In The Kitchen
Back then, I would escape the torments of my mother, by taking refuge in the kitchen. I would watch my Nana roll, knead, mix and stir as I engaged with her over the cake mixture, eagerly waiting for her to finish, so I could lick the spoon or scrape the bowl. I don’t remember paying much attention, but subliminally, it must have sunk in.
For example, I remember the mountain of dried fruits; currants, sultanas, orange peel and cherries (the smell was amazing). She would sit at the kitchen table and go through the huge mixing bowls of sultanas and currants and sift them one by one. She would pain-stakingly remove every little tiny stalk, by hand, ensuring each one were perfect, before it went into the Christmas Pudding or Cake batch.
Six Months Of Marination
This process always took place early June. The Christmas Cake and Pudding mixtures required a good six months to steep and marinate in the pantry, before being transformed into the rich, dark, moist, wonders which my Nana created year-in, year-out. It was one of our family’s traditions; we would all get to stir the mixture, close our eyes and make a wish. (A sixpence would be placed into the Christmas Pudding).
I made a Christmas Cake for the first time ever, last Christmas, in her honour and I could feel her around me watching, guiding me. It was beautiful actually, and the cake was better than I ever could have imagined it. (You can see it here on my Instagram page).
Friday Afternoon Was Her “Bake-Off”
Every Friday afternoon, Nana would bake cakes. They would come out of the oven about half an hour before I arrived home from school and they would still be warm. The sweet smell of baked goodies would permeate the whole house. I hated school, so that reassuring, sweet-smelling, baked air I walked into on a Friday, embraced me with the feeling of relief of a looming weekend, and of safety, security and love.
Those are the memories which stay with you forever.
Always A Roast On Sundays
On Sunday’s Nana would always cook a roast lunch, of course. Everything was made by hand. The Yorkshire Puddings, risen to perfection. The best, crispiest, fluffiest Roasties and a perfectly cooked joint of meat, with the relevant condiment of course; apple sauce, bread sauce, mint sauce or horseradish (all home made of course), served with a healthy splash of the most gorgeous gravy you ever tasted.
She Made Everything From Scratch
She made everything from scratch back then; from pastry, pickled shallots, cakes, batter, jam, chutneys, steak and kidney pudding (one of my favourites back then), not to mention the biscuits, flapjacks, melting moments, rock cakes, lemon drizzle cake, coffee and walnut cake, Victoria sponges, meringues, pies, brandy snaps, fruit crumbles (to name but a few). Again, in her honour, almost every year, I make a Cranberry Sauce for all my friends at Christmas.
Funnily enough, I’m useless at sticking to a recipe; I always think it would be better with a hint of this or a dash of that (and I’m usually right). I guess, that’s mainly thanks to my Nana.
Back To My Balls!
I’m essentially reasonably health conscious and I like cooking, baking and experimenting.
I would try to avoid the sugary treats (but come on, who doesn’t love a bar of chocolate) but too much was becoming a problem. I started searching for “healthy alternatives” there basically were none I particularly enjoyed.
Healthy Alternatives To Sweet Treats
All the other healthy snacks on the market, just don’t cut it for my taste buds. So, I started making my own; experimenting with flavour combinations and nutrient-rich powders such as Baobab, Moringa, Lucuma, Maca, Guarana and Matcha, to see what all the fuss was about.
I wanted to eat something delicious too. Something worthy of my Nana’s approval. A treat she might even like to try. Even though these little Balls which I make, are far away from her kitchen habits of yesteryear, I hope she would be proud of me. Proud of my quest NOT to settle for tasteless, cardboard or sticky (too many dates) substitutes. I was spoilt with her impeccable culinary skills, and thankfully, some of it rubbed off!
She’s Always With Me
If my Nana could see the plethora of lack lustre, over-sugared and baked goods available in the shops today, I can imagine her tutting and saying “Come on Loo, you could make something much better.”
And so, I do. I am. And I hope you enjoy them too.
My Balls are made by hand. With love. In London. For you.