My Family Recipe

Recreating Gran's Sunday Recipes (& Other Things She Never Wrote Down)

How my grandmother fashioned feasts out of few ingredients.

January 15, 2019
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Good food is worth a thousand words—sometimes more. In My Family Recipe, a writer shares the story of a single dish that’s meaningful to them and their loved ones.


My gran had a knack for making the puffiest, tenderest, hollowest Yorkshire puddings I’ve ever seen or tasted. She’d bake them in a 12-cup muffin tin, crispy and cavernous alongside roast beef, the perfect vehicles for hiding loads of gravy on your plate. They became the stars of her famous Sunday roast dinners—and she did it all, of course, without a recipe.

Hailing from England, Marjorie Riley (often called Marge) would come stay with us in Canada for months on end, especially after my grandfather passed away. She was always impeccably dressed, even in our cold Canadian winters. She looked dazzling every morning when she came downstairs, her hair perfectly set from hot rollers, makeup expertly put on and always a finishing flourish of lipstick she could apply with her eyes closed, a skill I have yet to master. During this time we spent countless hours together, huddled in the kitchen: my gran cooking, chopping, and prepping dinner while I trailed behind, tidying up, drinking cups of milky tea, and listening.

I loved those long afternoons. She’d tell me stories about her childhood, what it was like growing up with a single mother who had lost her husband and had to work at a time when women weren’t typically seen in the workplace. It was easy to see how my gran became so efficient at cooking, preparing meals while her mother worked. Gran became an expert in making the most out of a few ingredients and stretching cheap cuts of meat into extravagant meals.

Toad-in-the-hole was one of those meals, and of course, like many things, it stemmed from her Yorkshire pudding batter. The first time I saw my gran pull toad-in-the-hole out of the oven, I remember how wide my eyes were, dazzled by the hugely puffed and golden casserole dish with sausages poking out like turtle heads reaching out of their shells. It was a meal fit for a crowd, and a special treat on a Sunday (a day traditionally reserved for roasts in Britain). All everyone wanted was a corner piece of the casserole, a crispy edge, holding onto a fatty pork sausage with more eggy-soft, spongy Yorkshire pudding underneath. Comfort food at its finest.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“This was lovely to read. Thank you for sharing not only your story, but a recipe that holds so much sentimental value. ”
— Lanie
Comment

There are some foods from childhood that are so ingrained in your mind that, despite not having them for years, will still remain a favorite, especially when enveloped in the memories surrounding them and the people who made them.

I loved those long afternoons. She’d tell me stories about her childhood, what it was like growing up with a single mother who had lost her husband and had to work at a time when women weren’t typically seen in the workplace.

Memory works in funny ways. It's not just in the taste of her food that I remember Gran. She'd wear perfumes so soft and sweet you wanted to be close to her in order to soak them in. I once had a bunch of fresh lilies in my house and had to stop in my tracks when I walked by them. I found myself crying; they reminded me so much of her.


After my gran passed, I hadn’t eaten toad-in-the-hole in years. Until recently, I decided to make it for a friend and her husband for Sunday lunch. When I pulled the dish out of the oven, I found myself still thrilled by the puffy browned edges and sizzling sausages. Though it came from my hands and not my gran's, it was her toad-in-the-hole all the same—hers because I associated the smells, the tastes, and the memories with her, and always will.

When the meal was over, my friend Michelle said it was one of the best things she’d ever eaten. This made my heart full, thinking of my gran and being able to create new memories around the same meal she had taught me to love at her Sunday table all those years ago.

It took a few years for my mum and I to get Gran's Yorkshire puddings consistently perfect. When they come out just right, we ohh and ahh at their massive size and burnished tops—they’re a sight to behold. But when I started to make them on my own, years later, I realized they weren’t as easy as they looked. Sometimes they deflated, didn’t rise, or became soggy and underbaked. As much as I watched my gran cook growing up, I never had a solid, written recipe for her Yorkshire puddings. But like many techniques and classic dishes, I found that each time I made them they got better and better, requiring patience, practice, research, and many phone calls with my mum.

Much research has been done on the topic, most notably by J. Kenji López-Alt and Felicity Cloake. But these tips always worked for my gran, my mum, and now me: The batter must be chilled for at least one hour or even overnight; they must always go into a pan that has sizzling hot fat; and you cannot open the oven during the baking process, no matter how much you’d like to sneak a peek. Follow these three rules and you’re likely to succeed.

Oh, and don't forget the toads.

Got a family recipe you'd like to share? Email [email protected] for a chance to be featured.

4 Comments

Lanie January 28, 2019
This was lovely to read. Thank you for sharing not only your story, but a recipe that holds so much sentimental value.
 
Author Comment
Miranda K. February 6, 2019
So glad you enjoyed it! :)
 
Claudia T. January 22, 2019
I loved reading this, thank you sharing the stories of your Gran. I wasn't lucky to have grandmas- one died in a war before I was born, and the other held some kind of grudge towards my mom for so long that we weren't close, and I didn't even know she was really my grandma (I was young, and I thought she was a family friend). I have wonderful aunts who have passed down lots of recipes to me, and there's definitely scents that will bring me right back to their kitchens. <br />I've never had a Yorkshire pudding though! Looking forward to trying it.
 
Author Comment
Miranda K. February 6, 2019
It's amazing how different smells can spark memories! Hope you enjoy the Yorkshire pudding! :)