Jackie is the English grandmother of my son's mixed-race schoolmate, Stefan. She's knows a lot about the lives of the British aristocracy because for many years she cooked for an English Lord and she prides herself on the food she prepares. Over the years she's gathered many recipes, although recently she's gotten lazy and buys ubiquitous 'marks and sparks ready meals'. But at Xmas she pulls out all stops, basting and baking and providing the trimmings that her daughter and grandson have come to love and take for granted.
When Stefan was young, Jackie would relish the Jamaican meals I prepared because she liked him having food that his other Grenadian grandmother might have made. Stefan liked plantains, chicken and rice and peas and regularly he and my son Dane would tuck into an after-school supper while Jackie and I chatted over a cup of tea.
Dane and Stefan are now adults who have gone their own way in life but Jackie and I remain friends. I check in with her as soon as I return from my travels, and she waters my plants while I am away.
Recently Jackie phoned me in New York for my Christmas pudding recipe, the ingredients being a long standing joke between us since she claims it's a family secret. The fact is that there is no such thing as 'a family recipe' in my household. The annual preparation of seasonal cakes is a decidedly 'hit and miss' affair dependent on which scrap of paper my mother, sister or I retrieve, in addition to the mood or work pressure we might by experiencing. Another variable would be the amount of rum or wine imbibed while preparing a cake, since this could result in more generous amounts of said liquor or other alcoholic additives. Inevitably, the more rum, and less attention we gave to the process, the more surprised we were when the end product actually tasted good. For this reason and superstitiously, we rarely wrote things down, but proceeded with the same ad hoc approach in the hope that each year would bring similar success. This serendipity is why Jackie's recipe requests would always catch me off guard. It is difficult to explain this magical mix that has little bearing on an original recipe.