It’s a weekday afternoon and my much-adored grandmother and I are peering hopefully at rising dough rising out of a sea of dusted flour across the horror of a green laminate table that was probably incredibly fetching back in 1983. As always, it’s just the two of us (my parents are at work and my brothers at school) and my grandmother is licking her lips as we discuss our menu plans – just like every other day for us.
There will be bôreks (endless sheets of puff pastry filled with spinach and feta), çôreks (sweet pastries) and her personal favourite, aşure (a sweet, thick congee filled with all manner of nuts, dried fruits and grains), but although she has a sweet tooth, my grandmother will not eat any of them. As a type-2 diabetic, she’s heavily reliant in insulin injections and aşure is her Kryptonite. Sure there will be times during our weekly baking sessions where she will succumb - the temptation of that flaky pastry too great for even the strongest of willpowers, but they’re occasions that often end in hospital with me fainting by her bedside. Even at the age of 5, I’m beginning to understand that even Superman too has his – or her – limitations.
“Don’t worry,” she tells me when we’re back in the kitchen together. “I will teach you how to bake these so that you too can one day teach your own children.” Sadly, she never gets the chance. Soon after, she moves back to Turkey and when I turn 8, she dies unexpectedly, unleashing a torrent of rage and grief within me that I’ve never quite recovered from. “Don’t worry,” my mother – her daughter – parrots tearfully. “I can still teach you.” I nod sadly, but I know this is will not be the case. A working mum who can, quite frankly, at this point burn water, the heights of her culinary talents are cutting up pieces of toast into six pieces each and putting a different topping on each square. This is done every Friday night - a treat she likes to call ‘Kuş maması’ (bird food).
My memories of my grandmother – now only a handful because I was so young when she passed – remain linked to her cooking... I eat to feel her by my side
As I get older, my memories of my grandmother – now only a handful because I was so young when she passed – remain linked to her cooking, and I seek out bôreks and çôreks around the world like a truffle dog in order to get my fix. I find them in Sydney’s Auburn and in Istanbul and each time I sit down to order, I imagine this to be my own ‘The Little Match Girl’ moment but instead of lighting a match to see the visions of my grandmother, I eat to feel her by my side. The fact that the girl in the story ends up dying frozen in the streets is irrelevant (but depressing regardless).
But then, something happens. At the age of 30, I become a mother, and my own mother, now retired, takes up baking. The same dishes my grandmother had once rolled out suddenly begin turning up on my mother’s table as though she’s learnt them by osmosis – and she very possibly has. “Who knew, huh?” she smiles as she lays out a tray of elmalı - sweet pastries filled with apple. My kids of course, are thrilled, and now it’s not unusual for me to find my two daughters sitting across the table from my mother on a Sunday afternoon, waiting impatiently for the dough to rise.
Sometimes I watch them from the doorway, trying not to cry, but standing there I can’t help but think about how the love of baking has brought our family together for so many generations. The baking gene unfortunately appears to have passed me by, but I do a killer ‘kuş maması’. My grandmother may not approve, but with my mother’s baking, it feels as though she’s still around to voice her opinion, and to me, that’s all that really matters.
Lead image by Alyssa via Flickr. All other images by Dilvin Yasa.