“Celebrating Our Grandmothers”

We marked International Women’s Day by gathering together virtually via zoom to celebrate memories of our grandmothers.

We started with an icebreaker - asking each woman to introduce themselves and share a memory of food their grandmother(s) used to serve.  This proved to be very interesting exercise reflecting the diverse ethnicities and cultures represented although some said it was their grandfather or parents who actually did the cooking in the family.

Memories included curd rice, stew, steamed bread, bacon & eggs, eastern European food such as borscht, ackee and codfish (Jamaican), wobbly jelly and tinned peaches, crunchy roast potatoes, bubelah, latkes, cauliflower & carrot pickle, ackee and swordfish, bread pudding, puran poli, and lockshen pudding  One lady recalled being taught by her grandmother how to eat rice by flicking it into her mouth without putting her fingers into her mouth and eating off “plates” of large leaves.

After this memories were shared more fully and it proved inspirational to hear stories of past generations of independent women often living in difficult circumstances but who stayed strong and just got on with life whatever their circumstances.

Some had had very large families (one had 12 children from 16 pregnancies) or were widowed young and so had to find paid work such as cleaning but did not moan about their lot in life.  Others had taught cooking skills to their grandchildren or passed on examples of their handiwork such as beautiful examples of crochet, handwritten recipes, and a “Girls Own” book from 1889 entitled “How to be a Lady”.  Some lived some distance away but grandchildren would go to stay with them in the school holidays.

Some grandmothers had been disciplinarians and others very soft and gentle.  Many passed their faith onto their grandchildren, had prayed with and for them or told stories that had a moral.  Many had encouraged their grand-daughters telling them that they could achieve anything they set out to do and reinforcing the unfashionable concept that they were not inferior to boys.

One grandmother had fallen in love with a merchant seaman resulting in a  mixed race family which was very unusual at that time and thus the children grew up enjoying food from both cultures.

Others had come to the UK as refugees including one grandmother who had travelled on her own at age 12 from Eastern Europe on a cargo boat carrying onions – to be joined later by her mother.  This lady had subsequently cared for her grandson during WW2 and when his father returned home from war he could not communicate with his son as the grandmother had always communicated in Yiddish which his father did not speak.

One lady recalled her grandparents happy marriage which lasted 70 years with both of them agreeing to never go to bed with anger but sort any disagreements out before sleep.  Others too mentioned this advice had been handed down to them along with the premise of “do unto others as you would have them done to you” .

One lady recalled rivalry between her maternal and paternal grandmothers including very different attitudes to their diets.

Having reflected on the influence of their grandmothers everyone agreed that it had would be a wonderful idea to try to pair a young family with an older person to fill the “honorary” grandparent role especially these days when many older people are lonely and don’t necessarily have family near by and some young families have grandparents overseas.

The event had been a very pleasant and joyful occasion and so interesting to hear stories of each other's family backgrounds.