What to cook for Mother’s Day
This Sunday is the day when mums are meant to take a back seat and be showered with daffodils, plied with fizz and stuffed with fairy cakes. But is that what mothers really want? Are mothers such a homogeneous group that they can all be equally placated by, judging by the supermarket promotions, some sticky pink cake and sparkling rosé wine? Clearly it’s a formula that works in business terms – when dads are left to arrange a special occasion, their well-intentioned panic seems wonderfully calmed by the notion that ‘she’ll like this – it’s pink. Girls like pink, right?’ (The same thing happens at Father’s Day when mums automatically reach for the steaks and beer.)
Sure, fresh colours are welcome after the long months of dark brown stews and casseroles. So a bit of seared salmon or a shockingly bright rhubarb fool is a lovely change. But surely, not everything has to be colour-coded like a baby-gro. I suspect mums are simply looking to redress the balance of very unglamorous domestic work and child-rearing with one day of civility, sophistication and indulgence. Hence the popularity of high tea as a mumsy thing to do.
However, it quickly becomes a parody of itself. Drag queen-like cupcakes, dripping in glitter and piled in lurid icing, cups of delicately-flavoured tea never drunk at any other time of the year served in flowery pink teacups, finger sandwiches filled with smoked salmon – it’s as if women have reverted to being five years old, dressed in a fairy costume for a birthday party in the school hall.
So, where can we find a little glamour without girliness? Tapas or mezze is brilliant for combining strong flavours with the delightful variety of lots of small plates. And it can be remarkably simple – good bread, good olive oil, good quality cooking chorizo in wine, a little fried squid, a plate of serrano ham, fried artichoke hearts, creamy hummus or smoky baba ganoush, or some Spanish-style meatballs.
If the mum you’re treating likes lighter, fresher flavours, go big on fresh herbs. It’s a doddle to perk up a simply cooked piece of chicken or fish, or even top quality pasta, with herb butter, salsa verde or homemade pesto – made the day before and kept in the fridge until needed. A really good chunk of parmesan will be handy for elevating all manner of dishes.
Brunch is another meal in which you can combine luxury and simplicity. I love those frozen ready-to-bake croissants and pain au chocolat for a warm, buttery accompaniment to the usual morning tea or coffee. It’s also easy to layer up Greek yoghurt, soft fruit (frozen works fine), honey and muesli in a glass bowl or wine glass. Delia’s given us the ok to buy in some hollandaise for Eggs Benedict. If you haven’t the time or the confidence in the kitchen, don’t panic. A special meal is really about special ingredients. Toast can be the best breakfast ever – a great artisan loaf, some Brittany butter and posh jam.
No Mother’s Day would be complete without the sound of little children arguing over bowls of cake mixture and dropping eggs on the floor. Mum will be choking down this leaden treat with a smile, but thinking how she’d rather be cracking into a crème brulée or willfully eating the nose off a piece of stilton. But if it’s really important that the kids make pudding, go for simple assemblies of ingredients rather than bullet-style cupcakes. Trifles are very forgiving with good quality ready-made custard and sponge cake or biscuits. Ready-made puff pastry can easily be topped with sweet cream and sharp fruit – as in Nigel’s Fast rhubarb tart or Michel Roux’s Apple and passion fruit tartlets. Nigella’s No-fuss fruit tart is also a winner, with its simple biscuit base.
And I hate to say it, but it may be the nicest treat to quietly shepherd the children away from the house, let mum have three undisrupted hours in the kitchen to cook what she likes, the way she likes it. Then for everyone to return, eat heartily, waste nothing, and then quietly clear up the dishes while she reads the weekend papers.
Of course, the last person you can ask what they want for Mother’s Day is a mother. Even after the first few weeks of raising a child, mums are programmed to defer their own desires to those of their children. The mother that puts dinner on the table every night has parked those dishes that she may love, but are unacceptable to her brood. I forgo Chinese dumplings, dolmades, quiche, halloumi, pumpkin pie, miso soup and coffee ice cream- not a long list, and I’m grateful for that. But it’s safe to say that none of these things will be produced on Sunday. Nope, there’s no point requesting anything on this list because what mums want most for Mother’s Day (and every other day) is for everyone to be happy.
What will you make for your mum at Mother’s Day? Or, if you’re a mum, what would you really like?