Our baking expert Val Stones — ‘The Cake Whisperer’ and former Great British Bake Off 2016 contestant — shares cherished memories of her mother and special relationship with her mother-in-law. Mother’s Day is a wonderful celebration of the influential, inspirational women in our lives, but they deserve celebrating, or keeping in our thoughts, all year-round. According to Val, a lovely way to show appreciation is with a delicious bake or phone call, because the best gestures are priceless.
In the UK, Mother’s Day originates from the Church with the chosen date being the fourth Sunday of Lent. Gifting a cake and flowers is a tradition that began in the 1700s when house servants, often as young as seven, were given a Sunday to spend with their mothers and families. They would take a fruit cake home as a gift and when they walked back they collected flowers to make a posy for their mothers.
My first memory of mum
I’m so pleased that both my mum and mother-in-law were truly spoiled by us, not just on Mother’s Day but at every opportunity we had. As I sit here and recall the memories of these fabulous women, I am overwhelmed with love and gratitude for all they did to care for me, in both body and soul, as well as later in life for their grandchildren.
My mum worked hard to always be there for me and make me feel safe. My first memory of this was from when I was a toddler, aged about 18 months old, when we lived with my nana and aunties. I shared a pram with my cousin Peter who was a few months younger than me. We were tucked up together, the sun was shining and I remember looking at the blossom on the apple tree. We both wore reins to fasten us in, but I was within reach of Peter and, unexpectedly, he bit me. I cried out in pain and immediately my mum was there to comfort me. I knew I was safe.
Mum saves the day
School was a mile away from home and my lovely mum would walk me there each morning, pushing my younger sister in her pram before picking me up at lunch time… only to return me to school shortly after! By the afternoon she would venture out for the third time to collect me. In a day she’d walked six miles. We can understand why they did not need gyms back in those days.
Aged seven, I decided that I was old enough to walk alone at lunchtime and home-time because I knew that it would help my mum. However, one December day, I finished school and set off home; it was getting dark and the fog was thickening. It’s worth remembering that this was back in 1957 when everyone had coal fires and at 4pm the fires would be “stoked” ready for the evening. I could smell the smoke as it turned from grey to khaki. I was alone in the fog and, as the dusk closed in, my sense of direction disappeared. I was unsure if I was on the right route home.
I began to feel lost and wished my mum was there to guide me home. I remember the feeling of fear and not wanting to take another step. It was then that I heard a voice coming out of the fog “Valerie, Valerie are you there?” I called out “Mum, I’m here, I’m here!” Then suddenly, her arms were around me and I was safe.
Sharing gifts — and a cheeky sense of humour — with mum
I am the eldest in our family, with two sisters and a brother, so I was able to watch my mum share herself and her love equally between us all, which she did so well.
From the age of 11, I was given sixpence as my pocket money and every week I spent fourpence on a Walnut Whip to give to my mum as a thank you, because I realised she gave up so much to ensure we had all that we needed. Every Mother’s Day we would give her a homemade card and small gift which was always received with grace.
Mum would always be there for me to talk with and I valued her advice. We were friends, which was lovely. When I was 15, my youngest sister was born. After tea, mum would sit in her fireside chair with a baby in her lap and two little ones squished in the chair beside her, while I sat on the hearth rug snuggled up between her feet. She said that the baby was her little lamb and that the two children were her lambkins which left me. We joked that I was the ‘old sheep’ which I didn’t mind as at 15, we shared adult humour.
She was a full-time mum and did a wonderful job. We weren’t wealthy in a money sense but were rich with love. These were the days before I went to college that gave me grounding for one day being a mother myself.
When I married and had children of my own, my husband and I travelled from North Yorkshire every other weekend to visit both of our mums, so that they had quality time with their grandchildren. I have always valued this and I’m so glad that our children grew up knowing their grandmas when some do not have that luxury.
Mother’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate other wonderful women
I would like to give a special mention to my lovely mother-in-law, Val Stones. Yes, another Val Stones! I knew her since I was 16 so we shared many memorable years together, becoming extremely close when she was sadly widowed in the early Fifties.
When I was 40 and Val was 60, we went into Sheffield like two naughty schoolgirls and had our ears pierced, giggling all the time much to the dismay of my husband. Val came on all our family holidays, where my children had the pleasure of learning so much from her — from philosophy to how to make a tasty gin and tonic! She and I also travelled together; Florence and Venice spring to mind — we enjoyed each other’s company, laughing all the way around the landmarks. I jotted down our incredible memories in a diary, which Val fed into too; when I want to feel close to her, I sit and read those entries.
Lovely gestures are priceless
My mums (you’ll note I affectionately refer to both my maternal mum and mother-in-law in this way) have passed, but I was able to care for them when they needed me most; I hope my greatest Mother’s Day gesture was baking their favourite dishes and laughing until their time came. I am reminded of what a blessing and joy it was to have had two mums whom I loved deeply and could repay their love with my own. It was such a privilege and each Mother’s Day I still place a flower or posy next to their photos, saying “thank you”.
When my own children were little, I loved their home-made cards and gifts, saving every one of them in my treasure box. I recently found and returned them to my children, who are surprised I still had them! I now ask that rather than buying me a card or flowers, that they spontaneously phone to have a chat! Then, when we meet in person, a bunch of flowers would be appreciated.
As Mother’s Day comes around, yes, always spoil your mum. But remember, they are not just for one day; they are there for you, for life.
Why not bake a delicious cake to show how much you care on Mother’s Day or any other time? I recommend my ‘Carrot and Pineapple Cake with Meringue Kisses’ which is fresh, flavoursome and fun to make with little ones!