THE apple doesn’t fall far from the tree...
Just like her late grandmother, 10-year-old Margaret Spelman is a master baker, and is now encouraging others to try out their culinary skills.
“I started my craze for cooking during lockdown in 2020,” says Margaret, of Ladysbridge, who is a 4th class pupil at Scoil Bhríde, Midleton, and has three older brothers, John, 17, Tomás,14 and Patrick,12.
What came first in Margaret’s plan, the chicken or the egg? She has the answer.
“When we got hens to keep us company, we had lots of eggs available for baking,” explains Margaret, who is also a whizz at blogging her recipes.
The hens, coming to a good home, were in good company.
“We also got a very naughty kitten named Alice but that’s another story,” says Margaret.
Then there are the goslings...
“For those of you who don’t know, a gosling is basically a baby goose that can’t fly, has underdeveloped wings and has fur instead of feathers,” Margaret explains.
“My goslings are just over five weeks old at the moment. They double in size every week!”
When her school was closed due to Covid, she got the idea to get busy in the kitchen baking. She decided to share her easy-to-follow recipes and tips with other children, inviting them to do a guest blog on her blog, sharing their own recipes.
“My friend in Reem in Kuwait posted a Ramadan Lentil Soup,” says Margaret.
“Every summer, Reem and her family spend their holidays in Cork and her mum is friendly with my mum. It is Ramadan in Kuwait now.”
Reem explains: “When we break our fast, my family normally has lentil soup for fatoor — an Arabic word for breakfast. It is literally when we break our fast.”
Margaret’s baking blog, a step-by-step guide, baking by kids for kids, is popular both at home and abroad.
Her mum, Evelyn Crowley, says: “Margaret is very good at googling recipes and when she makes the dish, she uploads it for other children if it’s nice. I encouraged her to cook and I encouraged the boys too.”
Evelyn encourages her brood to clean up after their culinary efforts in the kitchen. “I emphasised that to the boys also!”
Margaret is very industrious.
“She even built her own website,” Evelyn says. “Her teacher, Miss Walsh, said it was really easy to do and now Margaret has her own website.”
Dad built the hen-house.
“Stephen was busy at work but he fixed up the hen house,” says Evelyn.
“The hens all have names! The kids all know their names. We have endless eggs. And the goslings make great pets.”
With the production line employed, the output increased.
“During lockdown, the baking project grew,” says Evelyn. “The hens produced the eggs daily, Margaret experimented with recipes every day and her blog took off.
“The blog provides great interaction between the girls and the boys,” adds Evelyn, who is a public health dentist.
Evelyn took off to the shops too.
“Margaret wanted ingredients every day so I had a list for the supermarket!”
Using her imagination, she often improvises with the ingredients she has at hand. She has no fear.
“One day she had no condensed milk and she actually made it!” says Evelyn. “Even as a very young cook, she has no fear.”
“I asked her how she made the condensed milk,” adds Evelyn.
“She told me she used the dried milk powder I bought during lockdown in case fresh milk became scarce and I couldn’t have my cup of tea at home! During lockdown, I didn’t know when I’d get to the shops again.”
Margaret is good at using what’s available.
“She often uses cocoa instead of chocolate and coconut powder to enhance a recipe. She made queen cakes with coconut powder and cream, they were simply delicious!
“I’ve never made a Victoria sandwich and Margaret’s sponge was just fabulous.
“She googles the ingredients and sees the options she has.
“Margaret is good at modifying the recipes she reads. The baking blog is a wonderful initiative encouraging others to get baking.”
Mum has an input too, adding: “I look over her blogs to make sure the spelling and the grammar is correct.”
Margaret’s recipes are always precise and easy to follow.
“Her mint ice-cream and chocolate chip ice-cream is fabulous,” recommends Evelyn.
There is something new to taste and something new to learn about every day.
“I never knew that mint leaves are used for making mint ice-cream,” says Evelyn. “It might seem obvious, but it never dawned on me.”
What about the spectre of the Covid-stone lurking around the corner with all these yummy treats floating around? Evelyn laughs.
“You know; none of us have gained any weight,” says Evelyn.
“The boys are very sporty and because there are six of us in the house, we rarely get takeaways; it would be too expensive.”
Evelyn says monitoring our sweet treats and fizzy drinks intake is a good idea.
“And I’d be encouraging people to have their sweet treat after their main meal instead of during the day in between meals.
"When we were growing up we had our apple tart and cream or our slice of cake after dinner instead of snacking throughout the day.”
What is Margaret’s most popular culinary creation to date?
“Carrot muffins!” says Evelyn. “People seem to have taken to them big-time.”
And they sound healthy too?
“You’d be surprised,” says Evelyn. “There’s a fair amount of sugar in them. But Margaret’s veggie meat-balls are healthy and delicious.”
There’s a bit of work in all this baking, cooking and experimenting.
“Weighing, measuring, and testing is all part of the learning process,” says Evelyn. “Decision-making is involved as well.
“Learning about hygiene, about healthy eating and good nutrition is important too.”
Baking is for everybody.
“I always say, if you can put a flat-pack together, you can cook!” says Evelyn.
And what if you can’t put a flat-pack together?
Then learn how to!” says Evelyn.
“Baking is a life-skill everyone should have. It is good therapy and making something yourself and for others to eat gives you a sense of achievement.”
Margaret’s brothers do like an important part of the process.
“They like the tasting process!” says Evelyn.
There is a bit of competition though.
“They have big fights about who gets to lick the bowl! And they often take the left-overs for their lunch.”
The whole family benefits from Margaret’s baking project.
“Working full-time and juggling work with home-schooling and homework leaves little time for baking,” says Evelyn.
“Margaret being so enthusiastic about baking and sharing her recipes and her tips is just great.”
The young girl is applying her grandmother’s approach, spreading the word about good, solid recipes that stand the test of time.
“I once gave my mother a gift of a blank recipe book,” says Evelyn.
Now it is a family treasure.
“It contains three generations of recipes.”
The book has a continental flavour.
“Years ago, we had Spanish au pairs,” says Evelyn.
“They wrote in their recipe for paella. Recently my friend had a baby and I gave her a gift of a blank recipe book to record recipes from friends.”
What does Margaret want to be when she grows up?
Perhaps she might be an entrepreneur?
“Maybe I might open my own restaurant,” says Margaret.
But she has other strings to her bow.
“I play the piano and I like playing sports,” she says.
Can the master baker pass on a good tip for us fledgling cooks?
“Use frozen fruit instead of fresh fruit in your baking. I just like to pop some blueberries and raspberries into my baking. It adds lots of flavour. However, for cake decorating, I use fresh fruit.”
Margaret has other sage advice to offer us on the valuable advice of her mother.
“I’ll be trying to stay within the maximum recommended free sugar and fat levels,” says Margaret. “And remember to brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
“I’m only 10 years of age so my Mam is running the blog with me. It’s safe for all us kids. My brothers like to cook too and will be guest bloggers sometimes. They do the taste testing. Enjoy!”
Margaret’s blog: baking for kids by kids