The Social Kitchen: a Family Cookbook

Dani Tucker returned home to find a bundle of her mother’s recipes on the kitchen table. Her mother had just passed away. She has no idea how they got there but she turned them into a cookbook – The Social Kitchen – inspired by loud, happy family mealtimes… 

Dani Tucker, 32, lives in St John’s Wood, north London, with a friend. Her mother, Shalley – whose recipes have been used to curate The Social Kitchen – passed away two years ago after suffering for many years with auto immune diseases. 

“I live in St Johns Wood, north London. I moved to the area recently and I am actively enjoying my new neighbourhood: a walk on Primrose Hill, a stop at my local coffee shop, picking flowers from the market.

I live with my best friend and we are very serious about enjoying the best of London. Previously, I lived in Mill Hill, near to my parents and intentionally close to my mum so I could be available whenever she needed me.

I’ve created the same energy in my home as I enjoyed at my parents’ house. Their values are entrenched within me and so my home has the same open door policy, overflowing with fun, laughter and – of course – yummy food.

My childhood

I was born and raised in Mill Hill. I have very happy memories of my childhood and youth. My family is warm and supportive, I was always embraced by good friends and together we celebrated every possible significant moment – but it was not without its challenges.

I was faced with my mum’s illnesses throughout my life and I had to learn to manage despite my own pain. My mum was instrumental in teaching me that no matter how difficult the circumstances, there is always hope – just crank up the music and dance.

The only real rule for mealtimes in our home was that we sat together. My mum felt strongly that no one should eat on their own. My sister had her firm spot at the table, and marked her place by writing her name on ‘her’ chair with permanent ink; my mum was furious at first but then laughed uncontrollably when she understood that my sister was merely living by the values she’d taught her and so ‘Megan’ was left etched into the chair.

I remember dinner in our home most clearly; it was organised chaos – every member of the family wanted a different meal: my dad, brother and sister don’t eat fish, my brother was also fussy about vegetables and I was fairly easy. We all got what we ordered and my mum and dad would cook together.

When we were young, my siblings and I watched them; patiently learning their ways and as we grew up we contributed more and more – especially with the desserts – we were particularly good at licking the remnants of the famous chocolate mousse from the bowl.

I think cooking is in my blood, I grew up in the kitchen, at my parents’ apron strings. I have always cooked the same way they did – instinctively, from the heart – and felt at ease in the kitchen, cooking and entertaining. It is something that comes naturally to me and I am really grateful for this. I am also a self-proclaimed cookbook addict – I read, use and collect any and every cookbook.

My mother cooked with the purpose of sharing meals, bringing people together and celebrating life. Her greatest pleasure was to prepare a meal for family and friends and she often called on everyone to get involved. As the trained chef that she was, she would direct the kitchen and get everyone chopping, slicing and grating always while chatting and laughing. Her kitchen was a sanctuary – a place where people could talk, find refuge, seek advice and share their troubles and triumphs.

The Social Kitchen cookbook

When my mother passed away, two years ago, I returned home from the hospital to find a bundle of her recipes – complete with notes and scribbles – on my kitchen table. I’ve asked everyone how it got there but no one has ever been able to find an answer for me, and so the mystery continues.

Deep down inside I have faith that my mum left those books to me because she wanted all of us to actively live her legacy. She knew what was important in life and I now have all the tools I need to honour her life and live my own life with purpose and meaning. Those recipe books are my personal treasure chest and I hope to pass on the traditions from my great grandmother to my own future family.

I wasn’t sure what I should do with them for a few months, I was certain I wanted to do something but it took me some time to figure out exactly what it was. After a few months it came to me: a cookbook!

It was a cathartic process, curating the cookbook. I don’t think I realised how emotionally demanding it would be for me to spend endless hours measuring and testing my mom’s recipes. I used her pots and pans, her beautiful plates and crystal glassware – it reminded me of the times I spent with her and I missed her deeply.

I also found it difficult to read through her handwritten notes in her recipe book, I had so many questions I wished she could answer. But, I felt her presence with me throughout my journey (I always do) and it has been entirely therapeutic. I now know that I have a tangible piece of my mum with me and I am able to share her talents and spread her light.

This cookbook started as a tribute to my mum’s life – something that I wanted to share with family and friends but since the launch in March it has exceeded my expectations. I have had orders from unheard of people in far away places.

It has been a delight to distribute this book internationally and warm the kitchens, homes and hearts of so many people. While selling the book is satisfying for me, it is far more rewarding to know that all the profits are sent to the Dermatrust. This charity was instrumental in the treatment of my mum’s skin diseases and the research they now undertake will save many precious lives in the future.

My mum was adamant about giving back so I know she is guiding the success of this process. Above all my hope for the book is that it sprinkles a little love on families around the globe and makes every kitchen a little more social.”

The Social Kitchen has been bound by Dani Tucker in memory of her mother Shally who sadly passed away two years ago after a long battle with various are auto immune diseases. The proceeds of the cookbook will be donated to Dermatrust (£40,000 has been raised already).

Pictured above: onion tart and flambe banana, both featured in The Social Kitchen

What are your memories of food as a family, growing up? Were they loud and chaotic or quiet and ordered – or did you eat in front of the telly? We’d love to hear in the comment section below…