My Granny, my father’s mother, was always the Christmas cake queen. Her cake was always dark with promise, richly laden with dried fruit, plump with cherries – a big favourite of ours – and well fed with whiskey. It would turn up at our house in mid-December, with the rest of what we called “Granny’s Christmas.” There was always a plum pudding included so that we could do our annual compare/contrast taste test between Granny’s recipe and my mother’s version.
During my childhood there seemed to be a constant flow of baking dishes,bowls and enamel plates between our house and Granny’s place. In autumn, deliveries of cooking apples from our trees at Pruntus would lead to the arrival of freshly made apple tarts for supper time, well sweetened – my father has always had a sweet tooth – so that the bubbling juices caramelised on the edges and led to arguments about the juicy corner pieces.
My mother could never compete! No mean baker herself (she takes the uncontested crown for scone making in our family), after a particularly good tart of hers had been devoured by my father, he would still lean back in his chair and mischievously give his verdict: “nearly as good as my mother’s.”
Although Granny had an old stand mixer, now in a box awaiting its place in my new kitchen, I never saw her use it. One of my most vivid memories of her baking was watching as she beat butter and sugar together, probably for one of the many Christmas cakes she made each year, with her hands.
And they were hands that saw a lot of work. She brought up six young children on her own after being widowed as a young woman in 1954, kept the farm going for twenty years and then, when she “retired” into town, motored around in her Morris Minor, minding grandchildren and making sure we never got too obstreperous. She lived to see many of us married, entertained many a great-grandchild with her colourful beads and two years ago I had the privilege of presenting her with her own namesake, my Little Missy, known to all in the non-virtual world as Hannah.
We got the news on Saturday as we moved back into the cottage. We were lucky to have her for 95 years – but had hoped for a few more good ones. There’s never an easy way to say goodbye.
Hannah Hennessy: 1916-2011