My grandmother was a remarkable woman. Widowed young just after the Second World War, and armed with not much more than a fierce work ethic, she left Scotland and emigrated to Canada with her three daughters – the smallest just three. I think that took great courage.
Nana lived upstairs from us in the house she bought with my parents and her kitchen was my favourite place to be. I learned to sit nicely and mind my manners – the wooden spoon on the counter was the ultimate deterrent to bad behaviour. (I was nine or ten when she moved into an apartment and her old kitchen became my new bedroom – I was the only one of my friends with my own sink in my room.)
When she moved to her own apartment, I went almost every Wednesday for lunch, which was always waiting for me so I could get back to school on time. I loved her soups and the creamy egg noodles. But each week, as I made my way to her place, I hoped for my absolute favourite – steak and kidney pie
Sadly, I have none of my grandmother’s recipes. In fact, I don’t remember ever seeing her refer to a cookbook or recipe card. So the particular secret to that steak and kidney masterpiece is lost. Even in my bravest moments in the kitchen, I have never attempted to replicate it. The potential for disappointment is too great.
I can hear Nana right now: “Are ye daft?” she says. “Stop all this sentimental blether and get into the kitchen and make the damn thing.”
OK, OK. But not quite. There’s something even better.
I first had steak and kidney pudding in a London pub and it was like going to heaven – except for the cigarette smoke. The same thick gravy, the same earthy smell of kidney as my favourite pie, but wrapped in a rich suet crust that’s more like a dumpling than a pie casing. Absolutely perfect.
Puddings are steamed, not baked like pies. You’ll need a pudding basin to do this (found at any decent kitchen shop and useful as a mixing bowl or rustic serving dish when puddings aren’t in season). A one-litre basin will hold enough for four. After you’ve lined the basin with dough, filled it and sealed it with a dough lid, you wrap it in foil and steam it in a large pot. It seems a lot more daunting than it really is. And you’ll be very proud of yourself when it turns out beautifully. I was. I think Nana would be, too.