I only had friends because of my Mum’s coffee buns. That’s a big statement, let me elaborate. When I was a teenager, still at school but desperate to be grown up and we were all hanging out where no adults we knew could see us smoking we would eventually get bored, cold or wet and decide to go to someone’s. When deciding which house to go to there were the usual criteria to be satisfied
Whose parents were out?
Whose attractive big sister was in?
Who had the best music?
Who had any dirty magazines?
Teenage boys are an unpleasant bunch….
But there was another criteria:
Had Woody’s (that’s me) Mum made coffee buns recently?
My mum wasn’t the best cook or baker but she made a biscuit called a coffee bun that she absolutely nailed. They were so good almost everybody who tried one was instantly addicted.
If there was a fresh supply of coffee buns there would soon be a stampede of teenagers into our kitchen, the kettle would go on (A coffee bun was always best eaten after being dunked) and then the coffee buns would quickly disappear.
In later years it would be an excuse for me to go visit my parents. The chance to stock up on CBs. I wasn’t even subtle.
“Hi Mum, how are you? Made any coffee buns?”
I would leave with a bag full of coffee buns and my flat would then become popular (till the buns ran out).
More years went by. Life went on it’s crazy roller-coaster ride. Only the coffee buns remained the same.
Until my Mum stopped making them.
At first I accepted her reasons for doing so. She would say the supermarket was out of some of the ingredients; then she didn’t have time; then the excuses became mumbled and the subject was changed. I put it down to the upset and stress in her life. My dad had recently died after a long and horrendous illness . She was looking to move to a retirement flat. Life had been tumultuous and distressing. Now it was getting a bit lonely and scary.
It was then that she forgot how to make a cup of tea. Then she started to forget names. Then she started to have panic attacks.
It was not long after she had moved into her little flat that what had become increasingly obvious was declared by her doctor to be dementia and coffee buns along with almost everything else were forgotten as my Mum had a rapid mental decline. Within a year of diagnosis she had she had deteriorated so much it was necessary for her to move into a care home. After another year she couldn’t recognise me and soon after that she was in an almost vegetative state. Then, for a heartbreakingly long time, she lay like that until she finally died.
Coffee buns became a slightly sad reminder of better times…
I inherited her notebook with her recipes in it. Included a well worn page that was titled in her tiny neat handwriting “Coffee Buns.” I had never baked before but since my family are keen on The Great British Bake Off and the children and Rosie enjoy baking all sorts of stuff I was encouraged to get the recipe out and gave it a go.
The minute I started I became very emotional. I was connecting with a recently lost mother and a long lost past. I only see one of the little gang of teenage friends now. Handily he is now the husband of Rosie’s best friend. The rest of us have drifted apart or fallen out or whatever else happens to childhood friends when you all grow up. While I was mixing the ingredients I thought of past times while fretting about what I would do if the buns came out wrong. Would that tarnish my memories? What if they buns turned out right? Would I turn into a blubbering wreck? Well, they turned out just right and I was a blubbering wreck.
They didn’t look like my Mum’s coffee buns but they tasted just right. I hadn’t been confident in shaping them by hand so I had used a cutter.
Huge waves of conflicting emotions swamped me. I missed my Mum, I missed my Dad, I missed our dog who always got the last bit of the bun. I missed the friends I had then. I remembered the petty jealousies and peer pressure that make your teenage years such a dramatic (to you) series of spectacular crashes and resounding highs with little in between. The sudden changes in allegiances, who is cool who is not, who is “in” who is “out.” The desperate struggle to stay in and the bewildered bafflement of being out. This and equally clueless discussions about girls took place with friends over a cup of tea and coffee buns.
It took a while to be able to dunk one in my tea or coffee without bursting into tears. Isn’t it amazing how a biscuit can stir such emotion? That cup of tea which had my first me-made coffee bun dunked in it was the best I had tasted in 8 years. It had the ginger and cinnamon edge to it that tea always used to have and was overflowing with memories and emotion. I was sitting at my desk looking over the top of my screen at Rosie while holding a half eaten biscuit with tears streaming down my face. I didn’t know if I was happy or sad… I do know that the next morning I made more. I even has the confidence to hand shape them. The little shiver of excitement when I remembered the ones on my Mum’s baking tray looking just the same before they went in the oven. The sense of achievement when they came out looking just as they had years ago was overwhelming. They turned out exactly as my mother had made them.
Fresh out of the oven and exactly as I remember them!
What was even better was that our son had friends over and they all wanted to try one, then another and another. I now know how my Mum felt. She would make herself some lovely biscuits and the bloody kids would eat them all.
Coffee Buns – The Recipe
1 teaspoon baking soda
200g Self Raising Flour
1 Teaspoon Mixed Spice
1 Teaspoon Ginger
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Cocoa or Chocolate
1 Tablespoon Syrup
85 g Margarine
Beat margarine & sugar till soft
Add flour & spices
Roll mix into a ball slightly smaller than a squash ball then flatten till about a centimetre thick
Bake in oven pre-heated to 180c for 12 to 15 mins till golden brown.