She made sponges once: The story of a woman admired by all 27



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In a pristine kitchen she used to make up to 30 light and delicious sponges a day. Especially if it was for a special occasion. A wedding or a dinner and she was there beating by hand and keeping the oven hot all day. She has been baking for 70 years or more. Her sponges are supreme works of art. Her family enjoyed them, the town enjoyed them, the organisations she donated them to appreciated them. In those long years of baking, her food has never harmed anyone. She even passed the food handling course in her 90s. That was not enough though. Not for those who demand that red tape strangles us. So she was shut down, part of her life taken away. I sincerely hope taking away that service she gave, and the small income she derived from the odd sponge ordered by a friend or organisation will not change her. I hope it doesn’t make her feel less needed and worthy, as that would be so sad.

I won’t use her name, but she is revered in our town. She is the sort of lady admired by all, whatever our age. Young or old, we all feel the same. She is celebrating her 101st birthday in August. Yet she walks from her home to town every day. She looks immaculate always in a pretty floral suit, or smart skirt, her soft curls always tidy. If she complains at all it is about the wind, but very little stops her. She is so light she got blown into a hedge one day. She had to be saved by a local.

We often hear about outbreaks of food poisoning, and I know we have to have regulations to prevent infection but many of those outbreaks originate in so called ‘commercial’ kitchens! This beautiful lady knows well how to cook and do so safely, she is a perfect example of the women who have kept the country going in bad times. The women who man the kitchens when there is a fire or a serious disaster in the area; the women who cater for the sick when they come home from hospital. They appear at the door with soup and delicious pies. The food covered with a snow white tea towel on a pretty tray. They are there when someone dies and provide tea and comfort along with cakes. The sort of values they have will probably die with this generation, as no one else cares much for a neighbour in the bustle of a city. But we live in a small town, people care.

Rules are slavishly followed. Common sense doesn’t come into it. That left when we stopped children playing in playgrounds, stopped the footy club cooking hamburgers, banned nursery rhymes and Christmas carols for being ‘politically incorrect’. We seem to be intent on making life unpleasant and unkind. Stopping all the normal aspects of a robust country life. In places where people are used to a few germs, and where for 30 years they have cooked for friends in paddocks and barns, and still survived. I was in the Lion’s Club locally a few years ago, and on Easter we had a working bee every year on Good Friday. Old Tom was in charge of food, he did smoked fish cooked in various weird pots and then in a black cast iron pot containing lard he cooked the best chips you ever tasted, all outdoors and with a scant regard for much finesse, but it was a meal we looked forward to from year to year. New rules and regulations have caused the disbanding of several clubs. We have become so scared of everything I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it. Why do anything if it’s all so risky. Yet daily we get into cars and dice with death. That seems to be one area they haven’t pounced on yet, expect in a few years we will have to wear a padded suit to drive.

Shame on the rule makers, and the government departments. I know I would prefer one of the sponges made by this centenarian than the factory produced cake any day!


Do you have someone similar in your community? Tell us about them.

Jacqui Lee

Jacqui Lee is 75 and now retired but the last ten years or so have been some of her busiest. She worked at a hospital, where she took several Certificated courses, she cleaned a school, helped to run two conventions, wrote short stories, started painting, and in fact is never bored even now, "I honestly feel we are lucky to still be upright and breathing, and my motto is, Remember yesterday, dream of tomorrow, but live today. I love fun, clothes, food and friends."

  1. They wouldn’t want to come near our town. I get all my jams and sauces and pickles from the local bowls club. The ladies their have a cooking bee every couple of months and make all these. They call for donated glass jars and in summer they call for donated excess fruit and veggies from peoples home gardens. Our local nursing home also does this. And our local Lioness club caters for funerals and weddings and birthdays. All food donated by local members who cook it in their own homes.

    2 REPLY
    • So glad it still happens…long may it go on. I think even here there are the pockets of activity and home made goodies escape and are bought! Will whisper it though in case they hear.

  2. Our lives are so over regulated now ,the beauty of enjoying simple things is being removed by so many laws rules and regulations that we are being suffocated by it .if something doesn’t hurt others but enriches their lives who has the right to stop it or interfere .unfortunately we are governed by narrow minded egomaniacs

  3. I have a 96 yr old neighbour who used to make passion fruit cream sponges every time a new neighbour moved into the street. She would welcome them & even held n’hood parties in her house. I’ve never heard her say a mean word about anyone. She’s hard of hearing & gets around on a walking frame these days, but is still fiercely independent .

  4. I find it very sad that our lives have become so over regulated. Some schools now ban the bringing in of birthday cakes. Some of the best cakes, jams and sauces I’ve ever brought have been from stalls at fetes.

  5. this is so sad to hear, however on the flip side, I am a domestic age care worker. some years ago I was sent to a home to clean for a lady. The filth I encountered was astounding. Worse, the ladys cats had free run of the kitchen (benches) there was all manner of off food laying about. The smell was mind blowing. Then to my horror she told me she makes jams and marmalade for the local stall in that kitchen. So, while I bet your dear sponge lady had a nice clean kitchen, Not all do!

    1 REPLY
    • Yes the flip side, I agree it can be so, but if you saw this lady she is immaculate, and her home is also, she is wonderfully organized, as I said sometimes the rules are needed. But a bit of sensible reflection on a case like this could be so much kinder. For her own 100th birthday she baked about twenty sponges all perfect. We enjoyed them, shame if it is the last time.

  6. Never buy any home made food from stalls anymore, got very sick once on jam from one of these stalls, you never know what is in them & how they are being handled & prepared, not worth taking a chance again.

    1 REPLY
    • Yes Lynn stalls where you have no idea the food comes from can be a worry, my husband will not ever try anything like that! Just this lady is well known and still clean and hygienic if ever that changed can imagine the family would intervene. But reckon this lady will just fade away perhaps still making her sponges.

  7. I’ll bet her sponges were made with fresh Aussie eggs, flour , sugar etc. Not all the processed stuff and preservatives used today.

  8. So true the local Bowlo used to be able to make their own sandwiches and cakes, not allowed now, someone might get a dodgy one, never happened in the past, and as you said most of our kitchens are more hygienic than commercial ones, we cook for our families there and we want them healthy.

  9. I think we are more prone to food poisoning now than we ever have been!bring back the cake stalls, the generous givers of home baking and the nation will be much better off! I’m in my sixties and rarely get sick from bad food( if at all)

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