1. Ashes and Peaches

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I’m starting this blog at a significant point in the grieving process. 5 months after my brother died we have now scattered his ashes in several meaningful locations.

As a family, when we were first coming to terms with the reality of my brother’s death, our shared assumption was that we would get a cremation plot in the local cemetery. We were so immersed in our pain that we couldn’t imagine the possibilities beyond this. We knew we needed a place to visit but couldn’t bring to mind a location that was his ‘favourite place’. Few of us at age 21 are likely to have one single place that we visit time and time again (excluding the local pubs and nightclubs, which for one reason or another may not be suitable for the scattering of ashes, that is). There are thousands of locations that have been significant in our lives in one way or another, and there may not be one particular place that stands out as the most meaningful. I knew my brother well, and I don’t believe he had a favourite place as such. In fact, he enjoyed visiting as many places as possible, making the issue of scattering his ashes pretty complicated! In these circumstances, the cemetery seemed to be the hassle free and only answer. In the days and weeks after his death the cemetery was visited numerous times, as we tried to make sense of what had happened. This is where he will be. This is where we will visit him. Barely functioning, I stumbled around the cremation plots in tears, devastated that my brother, who was the most vibrant, colourful character anyone could be, will soon be a small stone square in the ground, lost amongst the hundreds of other small stone squares of strangers.

We couldn’t cope with the finality of the decision, though, so we cancelled the cremation plot reservation we had made and decided to forget about the issue for a while. Months later, ideas naturally arose. There is a meadow we know that was the site of numerous family walks when we were children. It is also a place my brother went to play sport and drink as a teenager. It is a beautiful place; quiet and peaceful and wild. And also meaningful to us. There is our garden, where we played on our slide for years and years, where we created video box assault courses for our guinea pigs, and later, as adults, where we ate and drank in the sun. There is my dad’s garden, where Greg played football with our brothers, where he doted on my dad’s dog, and where my dad has now planted a tree in his memory. All of these places are meaningful and connected to Greg, and all could host some of Greg’s ashes.

It took time for us to reach a decision that we were comfortable with. It isn’t reasonable to expect people who are experiencing the worst time in their lives to make irreversible decisions concerning their loved one’s remains. Families need time to process the death itself before they can begin to consider what to do with the body. Unfortunately, immediate decisions are required concerning burial or cremation, but if a cremation is decided upon ashes can be kept for as long as you need. Personally, I needed to move out of my despair before I could see anything but horror in identifying locations to leave ashes. I am grateful that Greg’s ashes weren’t interred when I was in a place of despair and horror because now I can take comfort from the choices we have made. I am pleased that the locations we’ve identified are fitting for my brother. They resemble his life, not his death. They are places that will be visited regularly with love and joy, and that is an apt tribute to the wonderful, beautiful person Greg was.

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The Cooking – Upside Down Peach Cake

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This week I made an Upside Down Peach Cake, courtesy of BBC GoodFood. I’ve had these tins of peaches sitting in my cupboards for years. Every time I moved house I moved them with me, meaning they have now lived in the kitchens of three different properties. I bought them after I saw Greg packing for a festival and using peaches as the means he would fill his fruit/veg quota for the weekend. ‘What a great idea!’ I thought. ‘I love peaches.’ They were on the top of my next shopping list. Then they sat unopened in my cupboard for over two years. I thought it was only right that the first post for this blog finally used up these bloody peaches, and decided upon an upside down cake because I’ve never done one before. The sad thing is, once I made that decision I realised the tins were way out of date so I had to go and buy some more anyway!

This recipe was really very easy. The peach halves go face down in the prepared baking tin, with a raspberry in the middle of each to make the cake extra pretty. Everything else gets mixed in a bowl, and you are even directed to use an electric whisk which prevents you suffering any of the usual arm aches I associate with baking – I have no idea why I’ve been persevering without one for so long. The mix goes into the tin, covers the peaches, then it’s into the oven.

I think this is usually where my creations fail, falling at the last hurdle. It’s just that all ovens are different! Can I really trust the time and temperature directed to me by the recipe, or is it using a much cooler oven than mine? I checked the cake 10 minutes before the said time because I was determined to avoid my usual dry cake. The knife came out clean, so I took it out, cooled it off, and turned it out. But then I doubted myself, and put it back in. 10 minutes later I took it out again, and decided it was probably okay. Then I worried it might be too dry. This is why I don’t usually bake.

However, right side up, the cake looked pretty enough. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. In my (uneducated) opinion the sponge was light and moist, and the peaches were deliciously sweet and added a nice textural variety. ‘The presentation is not of restaurant quality’ one particularly discerning taster reported (you can decide that for yourselves!), but overall a success and something I would definitely try again.

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17 thoughts on “1. Ashes and Peaches

  1. What an amazing idea Katherine and so beautifully written. Moved me to tears, unsurprisingly. The cake looks great too! Look forward to the next post. Delia xx

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  2. You have such an incredible style of writing! It’s so entertaining and shines a light on positive things even during terrible times. Also that cake is wicked and looks delicious. Sending love to you and your family x

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  3. Thank you for sharing your reflections and experiences. Your creativity and thoughtfulness shine through your writing. I look forward to more resourceful and yummy recipes maybe including your family’s favourite ingredients…

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  4. What a fantastic idea Katherine! Beautifully written and I’m sure it will prove to be very therapeutic.

    I look forward to reading next week’s Blog!

    Lots of love and the biggest hugs xxxx

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  5. It was so good to ‘hear your voice’ through this blog and to know that you have found a creative way of coping with your grief. I have, by chance, got Gen and Ben home this Saturday evening and shall bake this recipe in memory of Greg. Love to you all xx

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  6. Katherine this is a fantastic concept. Thank you for sharing this and writing so beautifully- it made me laugh as well as cry. If you ever need a cook book let me know – I’ve got loads – ironic really as I cant cook.
    with love
    Hilda

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  7. Well you can certainly tell you’re an ex-literature student (and, as I recall, won that writing competition back in primary school!) because your writing is so genuine and compelling. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful post and for sharing photos along with your recipe review! I think your initial taster was a harsh critic though – it looks divine! X

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  8. Katherine your writing is beautiful,thank you.I hope to learn some tips on cooking,my cakes are pretty rough! Looking forward to the next blog love Pat

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  9. Hello Katherine – I found your blog very moving and so articulate.Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I hope the writing (and cooking) help you through your grief… and the cake looked delicious! Loved all the photos too. Look forward to the next instalment. X

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  10. Well-written, funny, poignant, real. So many moving, and then equally so many wonderfully comical parts – perhaps my favourite: ‘But then I doubted myself, and put it back in. 10 minutes later I took it out again, and decided it was probably okay. Then I worried it might be too dry. This is why I don’t usually bake.’ This image of you fretting by the oven I can totally envisage!! Beautiful photos too, I look forward to your next piece. Lots of love xxx

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