It’s the fourth anniversary of my mother’s death this week. I know this because I worked out the date prompted by an unrelated memory that sprung up on social media. And then I felt a shock of anxiety and panic that I’d had to work out the date. That it wasn’t, I don’t know, written on my soul, ingrained in my everyday life. That I’d forgotten.
I’ve been aware that I’ve been forgetting for a little while. I tamped down my guilt when I had to text my sister to make sure that Mummy had actually whistled all the time, and it wasn’t a false memory, or something I’d read or made up. I dressed up questions as stories, fact-checking as collaborative anecdotes, I feigned memories where there were none. I pretended to myself that I hadn’t forgotten the make up of her face outside of the few photographs I have of her.
But I thought that whatever happened, I would have a strong sense of my mother’s sentiments, her character. There was no way that I would lose the sense of a person with whom I talked for actual hours every day.
I’ve started to realise that that was wrong too. I’ve felt it particularly when organising my wedding. Would my mum like this dress? Would she have told me to invite a particular person? Would she have fallen in love with the venue like I did? Would she think my choice of readings and songs are silly? What would we fight about? And for the most part the answer is, I just don’t know. I just… don’t know.
I suppose – and it hurts, physically hurts, to write this – that it doesn’t matter. It feels callous to even think that. But life has to exist outside of the vacuum of grief that you stand in dazed and unmoving for the first year. It has to be ok to be ok. She won’t be at the wedding, so does it matter whether she’d have loved or loathed a wedding favour or a flower arrangement?
I have changed so much over the last four years. I’ve fallen in love with a man, and with a kitchen. I’ve left my career, a career that I thought defined me. I’ve begun writing. I’ve retrained. I’ve been braver and angrier and kinder and sadder than I ever thought possible. But as I have changed, my relationship with my mother has stayed static, not growing with me; I cannot possibly know what she would have thought of who I am now, whether she would even like me, or be proud or despairing at the choices I’ve made.
Not everything can be about grief. Not everything can be about her.
So this recipe has nothing to do with my mother. It doesn’t smell like her. It doesn’t include ingredients she used when I was little. There’s no nice story about being on a childhood holiday to append to it. I don’t even know if she’d like it, although God knows I’ve asked that question countless times over the last week. But I like it. I like it a lot actually. The jelly is bright and almost spring-like, the posset smooth and aromatic, and the combination cheering and fresh.
There comes a point where not everything can be tinged with death, with those sweetsharpsad memories. I can’t turn every pudding I make into some kind of tribute. And I suppose that’s ok. It has to be ok. Because I don’t think I can retrace my steps. I can’t make myself remember those things I’ve forgotten. Believe me, I’ve tried.
It goes like this:
Rhubarb jelly and orange & cardamom cream
Makes: Pudding for two
Takes: 30 minutes plus chilling
Bakes: No time at all
For the rhubarb jelly
2 leaves of gelatine
For the orange posset
300ml double crea
1 tsp ground cardamom
1. First make the posset. Pour the cream into a medium sized saucepan. Zest and juice the orange directly into the cream mixture, catching any pips. Add the sugar and cardamom and stir.
2. Heat slowly over a medium to low heat until the mixture begins to boil. Allow it to boil gently for four minutes, and then remove from the heat.
3. Place the glasses into bowls so that they are tilted to one side, but securely so. Divide the cream mixture evenly between the glasses. I do this with a piping bag for precision, but you can spoon it in carefully, and wipe away any rogue smears. Chill for at least four hours.
4. When the cream has set, make the rhubarb jelly. Bloom the gelatine by placing it in a bowl of water with an ice cube. Make sure the leaves are fully submerged. Chop the rhubarb into small, even pieces and place it in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water and 80g sugar. Heat gently until the rhubarb starts to give up its juice, then simmer for 10 minutes until the rhubarb is tender.
5. Blitz in a small food processor until smooth. Squeeze the water from the gelatine. Return to the pan on a gentle heat and whisk in the leaves of gelatine. Turn the glasses in their bowls so that they are tilted in the opposite direction. Pour or spoon the rhubarb liquid into the glasses and return to the fridge to set.
6. Ta dah!
Icing on the cake
This is a gorgeously self-contained pudding. It looks impressive and far more complicated than it is – and is a lovely make-ahead if you have people round for dinner.