It's the Mother's Day cartoons in The New Yorker that always get me. One depicts a line-up of battery hens in their cages, with one one hen saying through her cage to her neighbour: "Twenty-thousand eggs and do they ever call?" Another shows two women sitting in the park drinking coffee out of take-out cups. The caption reads: "I've carefully arranged to have my ashes carelessly spilled on and stubbornly ground into my children's carpets."
But it's the montage of three cartoons called "Heimlich's mother's manoeuvres" that I really relate to. The Skinned-Knee Manoeuvre shows a mother sticking a plaster on a kid's knee. Underneath the caption reads: "Go on and on about the person's bravery. Then place the hugest Band-Aid you can find over the icky area." The Anti-Nausea Manoeuvre shows a mother tending to a small child lying in bed and reads: "Cajole person into eating a small piece of plain chicken and sipping some warm, flat ginger ale." The Splinter-Removal Manoeuvre shows the mother at a desk holding her son's hand under a lamp while he looks up at the ceiling. The caption reads: "Have person look at the ceiling and think happy thoughts while you dig around with a needle."
My mother used those strategies when we were kids with knee scrapes, splinters and vomiting bugs (minus the chicken – we got plain, dry biscuits with our ginger ale). I, in turn, employed them to deal with these stressful moments in my own children's lives. So it is with being a mother, this idea of passed down knowledge to get one generation safely through to the next.
In the brilliant book Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, author Yuval Noah Hariri tells us: "Just six million years ago, a single female ape had two daughters. One became the ancestor of all chimpanzees, the other is our own ancestor." Our existence on this planet today connects us back through line after line of grandmothers with as many greats as it takes to get back through history to that very first mother, six million years ago.
Our early ancestors did not look like us in any way, but we are here today because, whether by birth or otherwise, generation after generation of mothers have shown care and nourishment and love.
Here's to Mother's Day, and celebrating all the mothers in our lives. Show them you care this weekend with some of my easy baking recipes.
Ready in 1 hour + chilling
Makes about 50
1 cup icing sugar
½ cup caster sugar
2¾ cups flour
1 cup cornflour
50 edible flowers
Preheat oven to 140C fanbake and line two oven trays with baking paper. Beat butter and sugars together until white and creamy, scraping the sides of the bowl from time to time. Add flour and cornflour and mix well. Divide mixture in half and wrap in greaseproof paper. Chill until firm (at least 20 minutes), or freeze until needed. Roll out chilled shortbread dough to just under 1cm thickness then cut into shapes with a 6cm round cookie cutter and place on prepared trays. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven and lightly press a flower into each. Return to oven and bake a further 25-30 minutes, reducing heat if they start to colour. Allow to cool on trays. They will keep for several weeks in an airtight container.
Annabel says: The addition of edible flowers transforms these shortbreads to something special. For advice on choosing edible flowers see my website.
Chocolate Truffle Fudge Cake
Ready in 20 mins + setting
Makes about 30 small pieces
¼ cup caster sugar
2 Tbsp milk
2 Tbsp golden syrup
2 Tbsp drinking chocolate
1 Tbsp cocoa
250g packet plain sweet biscuits, crushed
1½ cups chocolate cake crumbs or crumbed chocolate sponge
A nip of whisky or rum (optional)
60g glace cherries, chopped
⅓ cup raisins
250g dark chocolate melted, for icing
Heat butter, sugar, milk and syrup. Add drinking chocolate, cocoa and half of the crushed biscuits and mix. Add remaining ingredients and mix. Press into a lined 20cm slice tin. Top with melted chocolate and allow to set. Cut with a sharp, hot knife. Store in the fridge in a sealed container.
Annabel says: Recipe swaps are one of the things mothers are especially good at – we're always looking for recipes for parties, school lunchboxes and fetes. This one is from my friend and clever cook, Louise Brankin.
Cheesy Rocket Scones for Beginner Bakers
Ready in 30 mins
4 cups self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
A pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
75g rocket leaves, finely chopped
200g tasty cheese, grated
1 cup chilled cream
1 cup chilled soda water
A little butter, to serve (optional)
Preheat oven to 200C fanbake and line a baking tray with baking paper. In a mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt and cayenne, if using. Mix in chopped rocket and cheese. In a separate bowl or jug combine the cream and soda water. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid. Mix with a knife until just combined. If making in a food processor or electric mixer, pulse together flour, baking powder, salt, cayenne, rocket and cheese to combine. Add soda and cream, pulsing 3-4 times until mixture just starts to come together. Turn out on to a lightly floured surface and pat into a rough rectangle about 4cm thick. Cut into 12-16 pieces and place on prepared baking tray. Bake until scones are puffed and golden and they bounce back when pressed (about 15-18 minutes). Serve warm or at room temperature, split open and spread with a little butter, if desired. If you have any left the next day, they are also good split in half, toasted, spread with butter and topped with sliced tomato and a little salt and pepper.
Annabel says: A good scone is a symbol of hearth and home. You will win lots of Brownie points with these. This ultra-simple recipe uses fizzy soda and cream to achieve a light-as-air result.