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Remembering My Mother Through Baking

On 14th March 2021, Ireland celebrated Mothering Sunday a day to pay tribute to all the mammies and mothering figures in our lives, past, present and future. In this women’s lives, women’s voices feature, Grace Gerry reflects on her memories of her last mother and the love for baking her mother has passed on to her.


I pull out the greaseproof baking inserts for the loaf tins from the lower kitchen cupboard, in behind the Pyrex dishes and cake tins. And then I realise the last person to touch them was my mother, and she died ten weeks ago. It strikes me with a sad blow. She will never bake again. My sister showed me a photo recently that she took of my mother sitting in front of these same loaf tins at the kitchen table, the tins filled to the brim with boiled cake. Was this the last time she baked? When was that? Was it really only a little more than a year ago that my 94-year-old mother had baked these cakes?

Today I decide to make a lemon and orange cake. It is a quiet afternoon; the kitchen is tidy; I am alone and I love to bake. I measure out the butter, which is nicely soft from hours sitting on a plate in a warm room. I weigh the castor sugar followed by the self-raising flour, the eggs, the milk, and the baking powder. Today I am taking my time to get organised, assembling all the cake ingredients mindfully on the kitchen table before I start. I turn on the oven to 190 degrees, pull out the non-stick loaf tins and line them with the baking inserts. They are so much handier than greasing the tins to stop the cakes sticking.


I open the Styrofoam container of free-range eggs and crack each of them into my mother’s Pyrex bowl, a perfect size for the job. She always advised me to crack each individual egg into a cup first to make sure it wasn’t bad. I take my chances and crack each one in on top of the other, adding several tablespoons of milk according to the recipe and orange essence.

I recently bought a micro plane grater-zester, which is a great gadget for taking rind off citrus fruits. As I drag it around the freshly washed orange and lemon, the rind gathers in the folds in the device and falls into the bowl in clumps below. Later, the microplane releases a wonderful citrus scent as I wash it under the hot tap.

Now that I’ve measured everything, I put it all into the mixing bowl, retrieve the mixer and push the blades firmly in place, ready for action. I will leave the rind to stir into the mix at the end. Otherwise it clings to the blades. Three minutes later the cake mixture looks well blended and I use a spoon to stir in the fragrant citrus rind.

I carry the bowl of cake batter over to the kitchen table and ladle globs of it into the lined loaf tins, aiming to make both cakes the same size. I smooth out the surface of the cakes with the back of a spoon, open the heated oven, and arrange them on the top shelf.

With the timer set for thirty minutes I wash up the sieve, the mixing bowl, the mixing blades; tidy away the flour, baking powder, castor sugar and the eggs and wipe the kitchen table and counters. The cakes send out an aroma of sweet baking.


It’s time to make the icing. I search for a glaze icing recipe that involve orange juice and icing sugar. I find one and squeeze out an orange and lemon juice combination and pare the rind from a second orange as I have already used up the rest in the cake. After I have measured the icing sugar into a bowl, I wonder if it will be too dry. But as I stir in the fresh orange juice and rind it looks perfect, not too dry and not overly runny.

The oven alarm rings so I check the twin cakes. I take one out, push down on its top with my finger and it springs up again. It’s done. I turn off the oven and the kitchen is suddenly quiet as the drone of the oven fan is missing. I leave the cakes in their tins for a while to cool down, then spoon the icing over the top. I am not sure how it’s going to behave. It spreads nicely and drizzles down the sides. I keep heaping it on top of the two cakes until I use it up. They smell divine, a mix of hot cake and warm orange and lemon scent.

Once they are cool, I make a cup of tea and share a slice with my brother. It tastes divine. I know however if I don’t give them away they will tempt me to eat too much. I decide who to give them to and slide the cakes back into their tins for ease of carrying.

I ring the lucky recipient. They are at home, careful because of Covid. I tell them about the cake delivery and they are pleased. I drive a mile or two to their house and have a chat at the door. I suggest they lift the cake out by its paper insert and return the tin to me. They are delighted with the unexpected gift and I am glad to share it.

As I drive back home, I think about my mother. I am surprised how alike we are. She too loved to bake and to share it with neighbours and friends. Noticing the ways we were similar is warmly comforting, and while baking can never bring her back, every cake I make will always remind me of her.

Below is a boiled cake hand written recipe by Grace’s mother and an orange drizzle recipe from 1967. 


NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

Saturday Drama

NCCWN-Donegal Women’s Network invites you to join us in celebrating St Brigid’s Day and women’s stories. On Saturday, 30th January and 6th February, 11am-2pm, we are hosting two creative drama workshops via Zoom.

These will be fun, energetic, creative and participatory workshops and will be facilitated by Sinead O’Donnell-Carey, a theatre maker, visual artist and drama facilitator.

If you would like to sign up for these creative workshops please fill in the online form here https://forms.gle/M16L6o3UsnDiqLii6 and Donegal Women’s Network will be in contact with you to confirm your place.

*If you have a disability which you think may impact your participation, please just let us know in advance to allow the facilitator to support any participation needs.

These workshops are funded through DLDC

Covid-19: Amplifying Gender Inequality

Undoubtedly the Covid-19 Pandemic has impacted and changed the way people in Ireland have been living their lives since March 2020. Data and prior research highlight that men and women are impacted by pandemics differently and that they can amplify existing inequalities. Organisations such as the United Nations have identified women as being one of the most vulnerable groups that are being hit hardest by the pandemic. While it has been suggested that the coronavirus pandemic could wipe out 25 years of increasing gender equality.

“Women are doing significantly more domestic chores and family care, because of the impact of the pandemic. Everything we worked for, that has taken 25 years, could be lost in a year,” says UN Women Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia.

Employment and education opportunities could be lost, and women may suffer from poorer mental and physical health. The care burden poses a “real risk of reverting to 1950s gender stereotypes”, Ms Bhatia stated [1]


As a grassroots women’s organisation NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network recognised early that women in Donegal will face unique experiences, challenges and impacts during the pandemic because of their gender. We believe it is important women in Donegal have their lived experiences through the Covid-19 pandemic documented, recognised and acknowledged. And that women’s experiences and voices are acknowledged within any local and national post Covid-19 recovery strategy and that decision-making bodies recognise the particular experiences of women’s lives in society and tailor any recovery budgets, policies, plans and programmes accordingly.

To support this, we carried out a county survey to capture information that would allow us to understand the impact of the pandemic on women’s lives in Donegal.


The survey findings provide a snapshot into the lived experiences of women during the March-June first wave restriction period in Donegal. It is evident from the data gathered that the Covid-19 pandemic has created additional stresses for women in the County and added pressure to existing gender inequalities and gender stereotypes.  

832 women took part in the survey, and talked about a number of issues and challenges they have faced between the March-June 2020, pandemic period. Which included dealing with additional household workload, increased caring responsibilities; dealing with post-traumatic stress with Covid-19 restrictions re-triggering past traumatic experiences, going through pregnancy during the pandemic, dealing with ongoing health issues while trying to stay safe through the pandemic.


Some of the most common themes raised by women with children which directly impacted their mental health related to childcare and work. Many of these women talked about the additional workload and the challenge of balancing working from home and childcare, expectations. 

While women living with a partner highlighted that even with a partner or husband in the house, it still fell on them to be responsible for childcare. Home-schooling was a particular issue raised by women, many stated that they had experienced an assumption by their partner that it would be them who would look after home-schooling. Which was a cause of frustration for women.

Many women particularly young women, women living in their own and lone parent mothers highlighted experiencing feelings of anxiety, isolation and loneliness. With constant worrying and isolation leading to sleep issues. Being away from friends and family also contributed to this. For others stress and anxiety was being brought on by worrying about the uncertainty of the future, finances and how they were going to pay bills if no work continued because of Covid-19.

Isolation and loneliness were particular areas of mental health that was experienced by women with 60.4% of women reporting that they have experienced feelings of isolation and 57% reported feelings of loneliness since Covid-19. These levels were particularly high for young women, lone parent mothers, single women and women living alone.


Additional stresses were also brought about from a feeling of expectation that with more free time now you should be doing stuff and being active at home all the time when in reality you’re just trying to cope with getting through the day. While women who were front-line workers also expressed that their mental health was being impacted by a lack of support from their employers in relation to new workloads, personal safety and proper communication during the months between March and June 2020. 

Survey results showed that, 61.1% of women living in Donegal feel that their mental health has been impacted by Covid-19. This percentage increased to 78% for women within the 18-25 age group and 70% for women between 26-40 years of age. While women living in the Buncrana Electoral Area had the highest percentage at 68% and 68.6% of women with a civil status of living with a partner had the highest percentage for any civil status category.

And while the survey also highlights that women in Donegal have come to learn, develop and adapt to the new way of living, a question that must be asked is at what cost to their long-term mental health? Is this adaptation and change sustainable in the long term or even fair? And is there significant capacity within mental health support services locally to meet future demand?


From a gender lens analysis perspective, some of the challenges and additional stresses experienced by women during the Covid-19 pandemic can be attributed to issues of gender inequality. However, when women in the survey were asked if they thought Covid-19 had highlighted gender inequality gaps in Ireland, with the given options of; Yes, No and Didn’t know, 23.8% of women said YES, 23.9% said NO and 52.3% said they didn’t know. These statistics would indicate that there needs to be a better understanding about gender inequality and its impact on women’s lives.

Women in the 26-40 years’ category reported the highest level in Increased physical household workload for any age group; while women Living with partner reported the highest level in the civil status category with married women coming a close second; within the household category, lone parent mothers and women in living alone other reported the highest experienced increase in physical household workload.

The findings highlighted that the majority of childcare responsibilities and housework is falling onto women, that within households there is an assumption it will be the woman who is solely responsible for this area of work.  While there may be situations where this is agreed upon, the vast majority of the experiences expressed by women would indicate that there is often no agreement within relationships but rather an assumption. Such assumptions are likely built by continued held social gender stereotypes, that a woman’s role is to look after the children and family home. Such stereotypes are detrimental to achieving gender equality and the healthy sustainable development of our society.

Women in the 18-25 years’ category (54%) reported the highest level in supporting a family/community member cocooning due to the pandemic, for any age group; while women Living with partner (53%) reported the highest level in the civil status category; within the household category, women in living alone (49%) and women living with a partner and child/children (49.7%) reported the highest level in supporting a family/community member cocooning


Fundamentally as we all learn to live with around Covid-19 and health measures we also need to ensure that we are adopting measures and a way of living that supports the growth of gender equality and does not reinforce gender inequality structures.

You can download a full copy of the Impact Survey Report below.


[1] Coronavirus and gender: More chores for women set back gains in equality; By Sandrine Lungumbu and Amelia Butterly,  November 2020 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-55016842?fbclid=IwAR3BiPLXq7H-_Q6pJygRsaChN1GKKAzv3-NKONWbtkzi9WfQrP8p4mqY6gU

 

The Impact of Covid-19 on Maternal Health in Donegal

Finola Brennan, NCCWN- Donegal Women’s Network project Co-ordinator speaks with Greg Hughes on Highland Radio about of the isolation, anxiety and stress many pregnant women in Donegal have experienced since Covid-19 and highlighting;

The urgent need to have a more national women centred, human and compassionate response  in the delivery of the Maternity Services, while living with Covid 19”.


You can listen to the interview with below.


As a member of The National Collective of Community based Women’s Networks (NCCWN) we are calling on the Government to ease Covid-19 restrictions in maternity services and allow birthing partners to support pregnant people and be present at all pregnancy related appointments, scans, full labour and birth as soon as possible.

As part of this call, we are also asking members of the public to let Government representatives know that you are not happy with the current measures or treatment of pregnant people and you want restrictions in maternity services to ease.

To make it as easy as possible for you to contact your local TD we have drafted a letter you can use to express your concerns and support every pregnant person across the country. You can find who your local TD is and how they can be contacted at: https://www.whoismytd.com/.

If you are part of a women’s group and would like to draft your own letter, please feel free to contact your nearest NCCWN project for support. You can find where all of our projects are located here. Or, if you would like your nearest project to send the letter on your behalf please contact us and let us know. Your personal details will only be used for this campaign unless you indicate that you want us to retain your details.

Download the letter template