Made with Love and A Dozen of Flour

Made with Love

I wrote before about Nana. I can see her now. Usually she sat in the rocking chair. That was in our kitchen. The chair faced the clock. On the right was a little “Morning Room” and then the lobby to the front door.

Nana presided over domestic duties in our house. Truthfully not all of them. Breakfast was self-served. Self-procured. Not a meal taken together. No. Breakfast was the start of solitarism. Chat was minimal and people were short with each other. From the age of twelve I escaped before the others and went to school early.

Being at school early let me talk to Mr. West. He was our “lollipop man”. By “lollipop man” I do not mean a seller or dispenser of sweetmeats – boiled or frozen. No. He was our Road crossing patrol man. He sat on a desk at the school door. I talked to him most days.

For all Mr. West saved lives and saw hundreds into the school safely I think I was the only person in that building who knew his name. He was a good storyteller too. He told me about his early life in Croydon. He told me about how difficult work was to come by in the 1930s. He was genial. A true gent.

The chats taught me to get up early. They also taught me to get out of the house early.

Mother misinterpreted my going to school early as enthusiasm for education. It confirmed her instinctive guess that she had chosen the right school. And I (who was yet to defy her) did nothing to apprise her of how wrong she was. It was long after I had left there that she found out.

But Nana was quite surprising. She was talented but not in the ways that my mother valued. Neither did she dance on the table playing an accordion; nor do I mean that she accosted strangers on the street in order to surprise them with conjuring tricks. But she could sing. Although later on it was the voice of one who sang in what used to be called “community singing” – the preserve of holiday brass band concerts on the “prom”; or theatre performances which included audience participation. In other words, it was in tune and quite clear.

Nana’s real talent was that she could make food appetising and tasty. She also learned from her mother. Her mother had probably learned from her mother. And so on. She was also a skilled baker – of bread and cakes.

I have noted elsewhere in this blog that her methods employed no scales. No measuring devices. Cakes and bread appeared but were made with hands of “this” and bits of “that”. It was pointless to ask how much “this” – or “that”. The questions begat the same answer – “enough”. And the inevitable pay-off: “And what do you want to know for? It’s all good stuff what’s in it.”

“Well how hot is the oven then?”


“How long do you cook it for?”

“Until it’s done. Anything else? You know, it’s like my mother all over again. You want to know too damn much.” She then told me what her mother had said in her exasperation. But it isn’t proper to write it here…

In 1932 Nana had wanted to buy a house. She bought a shop instead. She thought that it would be a good place to sell bread and muffins. Also tea cakes. But she was to be disappointed. They had hardly set foot in the door when other tradespeople appeared. The questions were fearful and relentless. “Who are you? Where did you come from?” “Did you know the person that had this shop?” “Why did you buy it?” But worse was to come. “What do you propose to sell?” Nana felt safe. But the crushing blow came – “We don’t sell what others sell”. It was to be a rule. An unwritten rule of course but adhered to like the inconvenient law of the Medes and the Persians. There she was. In a strange village. Being told by others how to go about survival. Hmm…

There was only going to be one winner here.

But she did make the bread.

Not a lot. But she did.

“And” she said, using a phrase to me that seemed ridiculous, “I’ve seen me using a dozen of flour“.

“Nana” I said, “you can’t use a dozen of flour”.

“But I did” she said.

And the phrase stuck. And I wanted to know. What was “a dozen of flour?”.

I asked my teachers. I asked people who taught cookery. I asked people who ought to have known. The nearest answer I ever heard was a neighbour of my mother’s who said “Oh that’s old talk. Old women used to say that.”

“Yes. But what is it? What does it mean?” but answer came there none.

And how can there be a dozen of flour? You can’t have “two flour” or “ten flour”. My infant mind wrestled with that. It remained a problem.

A dozen of flour.


But lately, I was to find that I was wrong. And I offer up something for my fault.

Nana was correct.

You see: flour was bagged up on Thursdays for sale on Fridays and Saturdays – the great shopping days of the week, in the days when bread was baked at home too.

The Co-operative Stores bagged their flour in 6lb(small) and 12lb(large) bags. None of your poncey 3lb bags like they do today. This was flour as a substantial part of the diet.

12lb (twelve pounds or a dozen pounds) or 6lb (six pounds or a half-dozen pounds) would make substantial loaves and muffins and tea cakes for a household. Nana knew the measure well. But as ever, the devil was in the detail. The explanation was missing a vital clue.

All that was missing in “A dozen of flour” was the word “pounds”.

My mother was telling me in later life that her mother would have made a very good teacher. I agreed but wondered. But I agreed unconditionally. It was the right thing to do.


The last time Nana made bread was during the 1974 Bread Strikes. She was quite in sympathy with the workers. She made the bread unbidden and presented it without either introduction or fuss. We ate it. It was good bread. It tasted good. There was quickly none left. But she did it for us. It was not for sale this time. And also this time there was nobody to stop her considerable industry, skill and enthusiasm.

Did anybody write down the ingredients, or the method? Of course they didn’t. Like everything else of importance, we only asked when it was too late.

“But how hot?”

“Hot enough. Not warm. Hot.”

“See; you just do it right.”


I see.



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