GrOWING up in the 1950s under the watchful eye of her grandmother, Meryl White spent years being schooled in how to craft the most perfect pastry, the fluffiest biscuits and the richest fruitcakes.
More than three decades after her grandmother’s death, the mother-of-three has gathered together decades of culinary expertise and created a cookbook based on homely family favourites, complete with additional information about the life and times of the woman who perfected them.
The fruits of her labours – Grandma Abson’s Traditional Baking – has now been published and was launched yesterday with catering students at Dearne Valley College, not far from Mrs White’s home town of Doncaster.
She said: “Grandma would have loved it. Putting Grandma Abson’s Traditional Baking book together has been a real labour of love.
“I love baking and, better still, my family and friends love eating what I bake.”
Mrs White’s grandmother Elizabeth Abson – known to her friends and family as Lizzie – was born in 1886 and was the second eldest of 10 children.
In 1900, at the age of 14, she went into service, working for a wealthy family in Wath-upon Dearne, South Yorkshire.
During her time there she worked her way up in the pecking order in the Edwardian household, to eventually become the family cook.
“She worked in service until she was married, and then had her children”, Mrs White said.
“She did a lot of work at home, looking after her two sons.”
Mrs White, the youngest of Mrs Abson’s four grandchildren, was born in 1950 and tragically, just two months after her birth, her mother died.
Grandma Abson then moved in with her son, who was then working as the stationmaster in Bolton-upon-Dearne, to help raise his two young daughters – Mrs White and her elder sister Dorothy.
The young girls quickly began to acquire their grandmother’s skills, knowledge and passion for baking.
Mrs White, a former deputy headteacher and education officer, said: “My father was just 32 and had two young children, when my mother died from leukaemia in 1950.
“My grandma was a widow and she came to live with us as a family, so in effect she brought us up.
“She was 63 then and she lived until she was 91. She was baking right until the end and, until two or three weeks before she died, she was still going strong.”
She added: “We were a real railway family. My father, my grandfather and my grandma’s father were all railway people – we even cooked railway pudding.”
A fan of traditional home baking. Mrs Abson’s recipes included pastry, conserves, chutneys, biscuits and cakes, which she shared with her two granddaughters.
“We often did home-made teacakes, and learned how to make pastry”, Mrs White said.
“We’d make pies and, at Christmas, we’d make our own mincemeat. It was very traditional and it’s these skills that I’ve passed onto my own children.”
When Mrs Abson died in 1977, Mrs White collected her recipes, which had been written on scraps of paper and in old exercise books, and created a booklet to be distributed through local bookstores. Despite it being very simply produced it sold 5,000 copies.
“It was amazing,” Mrs White said. “I couldn’t believe how popular it was. But then we left it on one side, until 18 months ago.
“When I retired I said I wanted to redo Grandma’s book properly, with a little bit about her life, conversion tables because of course it was all in pounds and ounces, and a little bit more information within each chapter.”
Recipes in Grandma Abson’s Traditional Baking include sweet treats such as Bridlington cake – a summer lemon cake – coffee sandwich cake, fruit loaf and marmalade spice cake.
The recipe chosen for the front cover is Paradise cake, also known as a white fruit cake, which includes ingredients such as raisins, cherries and nuts but is lighter than a traditional fruit cake.
Yesterday, almost 35 years after Mrs Abson died, her recipes were brought to life by hospitality and catering students at Dearne Valley College, who tested them out for the official launch of Mrs White’s book.
“All Grandma’s recipes work well, as the students proved,” Mrs White said. “And they’re just as relevant today, in the current economic climate, as they were then.
“Grandma was born in 1886 and lived through both the first and second world wars, the depression of the 1930s and periods of rationing.
“This meant that she had to be able to make things that were tasty from quite limited ingredients. That was something that people of her generation did really well.”
Grandma Abson’s Traditional Baking is available now and can be purchased online, through websites including York-based YPD books at www.ypdbooks.com.