‘It’s as though granny is there in the kitchen beside me’
‘The sweetness and spicy aroma transport me back in time’
Gill Paul, from London, recalls fond memories of her grandmother, and the fruity dumpling recipe that still fills her with nostalgic warmth.
Granny Graham was 71 when I was born. I suppose she knew she might not be around for long, so she spent as much time with me as she could. To my mum and auntie, she had been a stern parent, but I was her first grandchild and she was putty in my hands. I have strong memories of how safe it felt to sit on her lap; of the smell of talcum powder and mustiness when I crawled into her bed; of the absolute certainty that if I asked to go and feed the ducks for the fourth time that day, she would take me.
She taught me to knit, sew and crochet, to play bingo and bagatelle, and she let me help to cook in her cramped, stone-floored kitchen. This was the 1960s and Granny did not have mod cons. She hand-washed clothes in the sink, wrung them out in a mangle, and hung them to dry on an overhead pulley. She only had a tiny stove but the most delicious aromas would waft round the kitchen, none more enticing than the spicy, treacly scent of her famous fruity dumpling, a traditional Scottish dessert made with flour, suet, breadcrumbs and dried fruit. It was my job to mix the ingredients, then wrap threepence bits in greaseproof paper and bury them in the dough. I’d try to memorise where they were to ‘win’ one later, but it never quite worked.
Granny died when I was eight. I couldn’t talk about her for ages and carried the huge weight of missing her inside my chest. Then one day Mum asked if I wanted to make a fruity dumpling and, as it steamed on the cooker, it was as if Granny was in the room. If only I could turn fast enough, there she’d be in her flowered apron and gunmetal perm, with stockings wrinkled round her ankles.
My sister Fiona was born after Granny died but she learned to make fruity dumplings with Mum and me, and I taught her daughter Flo when she was three. We make it every Christmas, although inflation has seen the threepences become pound coins and it’s served with brandy cream rather than custard. Every year, the gooey sweetness and spicy aroma transport me back to a time and a place when
I felt utterly secure and well-loved.
• The Lost Daughter by Gill Paul (Headline Review) is out on 18 October
Left: A fruity dumpling just like her granny used to make. Right: Gill with her grandma