"What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies." -- Rudolph Giuliani
I've been thinking a lot about my grandmother these days. Actually, 'Granny' was what we affectionately called her. She certainly provided all of the above 'essentials' - in spades. And although, to my knowledge, she never baked a cookie in her life, she could certainly find her way to a shop or a bakery.
Granny was a very funny lady, although I don't think she would ever have described herself that way. She had so many little sayings that she repeated so often that they became solidly entrenched in our family's lexicon. For example, whenever we dropped in for a visit, we would be promptly offered a hot cup of coffee and some kind of (purchased) baked good. And if we declined because of our waistlines she would invariably reply, "Ach! They're fresh! They'll do ye no harm!" So, apparently it was only stale cakes and cookies that put on weight!
This is certainly one of the expressions that has carried on in my life as well as with my siblings. In fact, we have clearly used them so much that they have been picked up by various friends and colleagues. It always sounds so funny to hear other people repeating Granny's words. But maybe that's because they must be said with a thick Scottish brogue to be accurate.
Yes, Granny was a Scot through and through. Born in 1901 in Uddingston, Scotland, a satellite town south of Glasgow. The men in her family had been hardworking coal miners who rarely saw the light of day, let alone their families. They lived in 'council flats' which provided the most basic housing needs, but not much more than that. But even so, she always spoke fondly of 'the old country' and continued to enjoy many of the Scottish foods that she could find here in Canada.
Like Robertson's Golden Shred Orange Marmelade, McVitie's Digestive Biscuits with milk chocolate, Walker's Assorted Shortbread, and Walker's Highland Oatcakes.
I always have a laugh when I see a package of these oatcakes as it takes me back to my twenties - to a shopping trip with Granny to the Marks and Spencer here in London at the old Wellington Square Mall. She loved that store! I can see her now, bustling about, filling up her basket with Scottish goodies. But she stopped in her tracks when she realized that they were out of her favourite red-tartanned Highland Oatcakes.
I was sent to seek out a salesperson to inquire if there were, perhaps, a stash of them hidden in a back room. The clerk apologized for the lack of stock, but very graciously pointed out another shelf which was packed full of green-tartanned packages of Irish oatcakes.
I can still recall the perplexed expression on the young lady's face when Granny responded by saying, "Ach! Nae! These won't do." Said the clerk, "But, as you can see from the box, they are the very same thing! They simply come in a green box rather than in a red box." I could definitely sense some exasperation coming through, but this was totally lost on Granny.
"Nae, nae," she replied. "Nae. I'll just have tae do without and come back another time when you have the Scottish oatcakes in."
At this point I tried some gentle cajoling because I knew it would be either myself or my sister, Kathie, who would be driving her back to Marks and Spencer (a 200 km. round trip). And, besides, I knew how much she enjoyed an oatcake with some Robertson's marmalade, or a bit of cheese with her favourite beverage - a cup of coffee.
But she wouldn't budge an inch. Granny was like that. Absolutely immovable once her mind was made up. I tried everything I could think of to convince her that these Irish oatcakes were absolutely the same product, produced by the same company, in fact, and that the only difference was the green vs red box.
I was unsuccessful. "But why??" I wanted to know. "Why won't you just try them?"
"They're Irish!" she replied. And that was that.
And so, in memory of Granny and that memorable trip to Marks and Spencer, I am giving you a recipe for 'Irish Oatcakes' this week. I'm sure they will be delightful with marmalade, or a bit of cheese, or whatever else may take your fancy.
And I'm kind of hoping that from 'across the veil' I can make Granny smile. Or maybe even chuckle. Because that would be really funny.