Nikki Long’s grandmother lived with vascular dementia for five years, but she left a very touching legacy for her family, as Nikki, 37, explains
Nanna was always baking. As a child, I remember her kitchen being filled with the smell of home cooking. She could make a mean fruit cake, knock up a lemon meringue pie from scratch and always be relied upon to produce a tray of ginger biscuits, should anyone drop by for tea.
As a child, I visited often. She taught me how to bake cakes and biscuits, and enjoyed tickling my taste buds with delicious sweet creations such as Frothy Jelly which tasted amazing. Nanna loved having the family around for Sunday lunch too. She thought nothing of making a meal for 15, and always included at least five options for pudding. Like many women of her generation, she was very creative, excelled at crafting, was a great embroiderer and a keen gardener with a passion for growing fuchsias.
After Grandad died she lived alone and, at first, she covered up her forgetfulness quite well. When it became more obvious, it took quite a while to persuade her to go to the doctor but eventually, around five years ago, she was diagnosed with vascular dementia.
Soon her kitchen, once the hub of the home, became more and more hazardous. After a while, the cooker had to be disconnected because it was too dangerous for her to use it anymore, and Nanna ate microwave meals, which was sensible of course, but still a bit sad. A lovely team of carers came in to support her and allow her to stay living in the home she loved for as long as possible. She continued gardening, I’d often see her weeding, but couldn’t explain what she was doing. If I asked, she’d just look blankly at me, which was pretty upsetting.
Then, after a flood in the house, we managed to persuade her it was time to move. Clearing the home she’d lived in for decades was a big task, and one day while we were sorting through drawers and cupboards we came across something very special; a handwritten book…of Nanna’s recipes! Each beautifully written page revealed a recipe, teaching us how to make all those biscuits, cakes and puddings we’d eaten while we were growing up. The lemon meringue pie, the ginger biscuits, her rice crispy cake with marshmallows and toffee, and that amazing Frothy Jelly which, I discovered, was made with evaporated milk and jelly (a post-war favourite pudding). The book also contained some of her signature savoury dishes too, such as Bacon Roly-poly and something called Galantine (a bit like a meat loaf) which I used to love, but everyone else thought was gross!
Each recipe was so precious because it was Nanna’s gift to her family. When I started cooking her biscuits and cakes, conjuring up all those delicious smells and tastes, it was so comforting. I felt close to her.
Nanna died peacefully aged 78 in May 2015. By then, she’d been living in a lovely little nursing home for a couple of years where she’d been kept busy (she often helped with the gardening and the laundry) and seemed happy.
I wanted to do something in her memory so I started raising money for Dementia UK. I made £2000 on a sponsored walk and then I heard about a family recipe competition (part of the Time for a Cuppa campaign) and decided to enter one of Nanna’s recipes.
I was thrilled when her Ginger Fairlings received first prize…and I know Nanna would have been really chuffed too. Watching her live with dementia was hard, but I’m grateful that we have something to remind us of happier times, and take us right back to Nanna’s kitchen.
Dementia UK’s Time for a Cuppa campaign runs from March 1- 8. Order your free tea party pack now and help raise money for more Admiral Nurses.
Do you have a favourite recipe handed down from a loved one with dementia? Please share it with us in the comments below.