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A Clutch Of Pearlies: Teaching Rachel

Mary Pearl is delightfully discovering a whole new world of sugar and spice and everything nice while teaching her seven-year-old granddaughter Rachel to cook.

My granddaughter Rachel and I have a history of cooking googie eggs. When she was four she stood on a chair to reach the kitchen bench, cracked eggs and stirred the mixture into the frypan with a wooden spoon. Now that sheís seven Rachel reaches the bench on her own and we have graduated to more sophisticated dishes like sponge cake and pumpkin soup.

The recipes are my mumís. I sat at her kitchen table and took notes. Now I am passing the decadesí worth of accumulated culinary wisdom on to Rachel who is the only person currently interested in cooking. Rachel and I pore over my collection of recipes and decide on one dish each time she visits. I teach her about the importance of pre-preparing the ingredients and the trick of clearing away as we go along. We discuss family gatherings and the vital role that sharing meals plays in keeping us all together.

We talk as we bake. We discuss what sheís reading right now (Enid Blytonís The Far Away Tree). Rachel tells me about her school friends, her teachers and her favourite subject which seems to be maths. I admit that I was a dunce at that subject which she finds hilarious. Despite my showing her pictures of myself in better days, she canít imagine her wrinkly old Nan ever being young and finds it extraordinary that an adult canít do absolutely everything well. Itís a revelation. Despite it all she asks me to test her. I oblige but when the time comes I will send her to ask those maths wizards her uncle or her dad who I suspect are throwbacks.

I like to think that my job is to complement all the other resources in Rachelís life. Todayís parents are time poor and often rely on the extended family to help out with what they once had had time to do in those leisurely days of dad at work, mum at home and everybody in their appointed places. Rachel can count on the uncles for maths, the great uncleís knowledge of contemporary music is encyclopaedic, the great aunt provides support for all things literary and the grandfather offers piano and chess lessons to interested parties. And in the twilight of her life Rachelís grandma has been reactivated for services above and beyond the call of duty. This has given her a new lease on life.

As a mother of sons I missed out on all those girlie type activities. Donít get me wrong, my sons and I have our own memories to draw on, and they are good cooks now in their own right, but my boys were never interested in cissy stuff that entailed hanging around the kitchen for longer than it took to scoff down a meal (and under protest wash a dish). And you canít paint a boyís toe nails can you? Try shopping for necessities with boys. If you force their hand they will pick a top and a pair of jeans in five minutes flat then want to move on to more important things.

This is why it has been a delight to discover a whole new world of sugar and spice and everything nice. Rachel and I are building on the foundations of our own tradition through cooking, giggling and deep and meaningful conversation. It is my hope that one day when sheís whipping up a chocolate torte in her own kitchen Rachel will look back at us the way we were (my) wrinkles and all and treasure the memories.

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For more of Mary's encouraging, enlightening and entertaining columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_clutch_of_pearlies/

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