Nana's kitchen consisted of one simple room, which overlooked the garden. The spectacular colours of the birds of paradise that grew up from the garden and framed the kitchen windows matched the 1960s kitchen colour scheme of burnt orange laminex and glossy brown wood panelled cabinetry. The kitchen lead off to a little rectangle laundry and the door to the back garden. In the laundry, the window ledge held a healthy family of vibrant purple African violets with their fuzzy green leaves. Nana's pride and joy. No one could seem to grow those violets like Nana, no matter how hard they tried. A little bright yellow plastic watering can, with a delicate narrow spout, sat closely to the violets to keep them well nourished. If I was very good, Nana would let me give the violets their daily dose of water. The laundry also held Nana's amazing, spotlessly clean linen press, which was filled with hand embroided tablecloths, kitchen towels and home made aprons. When the kitchen was silent and the buzz and smells of the days cooking activities had faded, you could always smell a waft of fresh laundry starch and a tiny hint of underlying camphor, wafting in from the linen press.
While Nana cooked three meals a day for three hundred and sixty five days of the year, in her bird of paradise kitchen, afternoon tea was always the star attraction on her menu. Often there was homely sultana cake. Simple and satisfying with a cup of strongly brewed tea. Other times there was something a bit more special. The something special happened when Madame Zen headed back into the work force and I was yet to start school. Often Nana and I would have a day or two of the week together. Some might call it baby sitting, but for me, these were days sprinkled with star dust. Nana would swaddle me in her best frilly, pastel mint coloured 1950s apron, prop me on a stool and the lesson for making the perfect afternoon tea would commence. My favourite lesson, by a long shot, was how to make pikelets. I can still remember Nana's words...to wait...wait...until the bubbles started to burst on the top of the batter, before turning the pikelet over on the hot griddle. Nana's words were also not just about the ingredients for cooking, but the ingredients for life. She shared with me our family history, our traditions, her connections within the local community, her moral compass, her sense of social justice and her humour - as well as everything else I would need to know for when I grew up. Right down to how to dye your own shoes the perfect colour to match your dress.
This weekend marks one year since Nana passed away. Throughout the year I have often felt her presence, sharing our family's moments of joy, grief and everything in between. Heading into the kitchen today to make our favourite afternoon tea, I could feel her spirit there with me again as the milky smell of the batter wafted from the pan and the bubbles started to burst on the top of the batter.
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup of full cream milk
(makes 10 - 15 pikelets, depending on the size of your dollops)
1. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.
2. In another bowl, beat egg and sugar until thick and fluffy.
3. Slowly add the egg mixture, along with milk to the sifted flour mix.
4. Mix until combined - but be careful not to over mix.
5. Drop tablespoons of the batter onto a hot greased non stick frying pan,
6. Only turn the piklets over when the bubbles start to pop on the top of the surface of the batter dollops.
7. Cook the second side until golden.
8. Serve warm, with raspberry jam, whipped cream and fresh fruit.
* I love serving these with Adriatic Figs and French Champagne. I would have had to twist Nana's arm to have a glass of bubbly with this - she probably would have gone with tea and strawberries. But, when you are celebrating the life of a warm, loving and beautiful person - why not crack open a good bottle.