Last year my family suffered the loss of my paternal grandmother Carla Blake. She was an amazing woman, a shining example to me – so this week I’ve written this piece to honour her and tell her story.
Grandma Carla lived an amazing life and contributed a lot to the world around her. What has always stood out for me was her determination and gumption. One of my favourite stories growing up was the story of how she became an amazing cook.
My grandfather Valentine was a surviving prisoner of war from a POW camp in Singapore during World War II. He met Carla who was working as a nurse in London and they fell in love and got married. As you can imagine, prisoners of war were very emaciated and thin – so imagine the doctors’ surprise when Val continued to lose weight instead of putting it back on.
It turns out that what Carla was feeding him, he didn’t like to eat! He told her, “I want to eat because I like what’s on my plate, and not because you feel you have to feed me up.” Granny put her mind to the problem immediately and began reading dozens of cookbooks.
She became a very skilled cook to the point where in 1971 she decided to publish ‘The Irish Cookbook’. The book was a sell out, and got reprinted many times over with several different editions. I still have a copy signed from her, and it feels like a little piece of her to carry with me.
I love that story because it shows her determination to tackle a problem, and beat it so thoroughly that she became an expert!
She also had a regular column in the Irish Examiner newspaper for over 25 years, writing about recipes, gardening and family life. One of my favourite memories is seeing the recipe for ‘Honey Joys’, those sticky corn flake treats in the Irish Examiner. Granny had visited us in Australia, and my mum had made them for all of us while she visited. She printed the recipe in the newspaper with the title ‘Valerie’s Honey Joys’ as if my mum had come up with the recipe herself and not stolen it from the side of the box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes!
She lived in Ireland and later France when she retired from writing, so I didn’t get to see a lot of her growing up. Whenever I did spend time with her, I was always struck by what a strong woman she was. On her last visit to Australia, we took her swimming with dolphins – she was in her seventies at that time!
Granny was also known for her amazing gardening skills and she and my grandpa had an amazing cottage and garden. Between 1985 and 2002, they opened the gardens to the public and raised around €50,000 for charities.
Grandpa Val passed in 1993 and I know that she missed him every day. It makes my heart full knowing she will be reunited with him now.
What Granny taught me is to be a proud Blake woman. She was always strong, and unafraid to share her opinion. A lot of her articles were ahead of her time – she spoke about splitting the housework with her husband Val and sharing household responsibilities. She also taught me the importance of caring for others through her charity work, and love through her devotion to my Grandpa.
I like to think that my passion for writing came from her and today Granny, I thank you for helping shape the person I am today. Rest in peace.