On Mother’s Day, I miss my mother the most. Being so far away from her, I feel sending her a card just isn’t good enough; for all that she has given me. The unconditional love and time, the unwanted advice laced with wisdom, that now resonates as I find myself giving the same to my daughter.

As a single mother I find myself playing catch up, juggling a career and being a present mum through it all and I appreciate how hard it is. There are so many days that celebrate relationships and events, but to me Mother’s Day is one that is so important. Even though we must appreciate our mothers and their challenges throughout the year, one day truly celebrating this mammoth task is worth it I feel.

Growing up as an only child, I was very close to my mother and remain so. But the lady that had the most influence in my life was always my maternal grandmother, who we call Nani. Anytime I needed anything, I would go to my Nani Mummy (as I called her). She was the guardian of my secrets, the giver of treats and the one to dry my tears when my mother drove me mad (as most mothers do). There is an unconditional love of grandmothers that is very different – it lacks the responsibility of upbringing, but with it brings an ability to relax and enjoy the maternal aspects of this blessing. Most people's memories of mothers and grandmothers might be intertwined with playing games, reading stories but mine always begin in the garden, walk their way through the kitchen and end on the dining table. All my maternal memories are laced with food and flavour.

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The greatest lessons I learnt growing up were the ones I learned via osmosis. From simple tricks of understanding when a curry base is ready for the next step, to when red onions are brown enough to be taken out of oil, but most of all, how to cook with estimation and trust yourself. These are my life skills, lessons that you carry with you as a part of your history, your heritage. Lessons I can pass down to my daughter. Growing up far removed from Pakistan, I know these are the flavours of my daughter's homeland and are what keep her connected to her roots. As a mother, there are so many lessons I need to teach her, but this is one I can do effortlessly, and to me, teaching her how to cook her cuisine, is a duty that can’t be underestimated.

So this Mother’s Day, there are flowers to be bought, chocolates to be eaten but that is not what I want. What I want is maybe an afternoon with my little girl in the kitchen, telling her stories about cooking with my grandmother when I was a child, teaching her the recipe of her comforting rice pudding and how my mother made me roll our chappatis every night, laughing and without any effort, bonding and sharing love and flavour together. This to me would be the greatest Mother’s Day present for us both. Today my mother's providence rings clear, thank you for teaching me well, you always did say “one day, you’ll thank me”.

Recipe from Mountain Berries and Desert Spice (Frances Lincoln) – Sumayya is speaking at Glasgow’s Aye, Write Festival on April 18, 2018 from 3pm – 4pm at the Mitchell Library (book tickets on ayewrite.com)

Nani’s Kheer

Serves 6

My grandmother’s rice pudding, filled with love and urgency due to my demand for something sweet – this was the one comfort of childhood that I carry with me wherever I go, and share today with my daughter, Ayaana, on Mother’s Day.


180g/6 oz/1 cup basmati rice

150ml/5 fl oz/2?3 cup whole milk, preferably unpasteurised

1 star anise

1 inch cinnamon stick

2 cardamom pods

1 litre/4 cups water

a pinch of salt

350g/2 cups caster

(superfine) sugar

1 tsp kewra (screwpine extract) or 2 tsp rose water

To decorate

Handful of almonds, chopped

Figs, optional

Preparation: 15 minutes plus overnight soaking

Cooking time: 4 hours


Soak the rice in a bowl of water overnight. The next day, drain the rice and set aside.

Bring the milk to the boil in a heavy-based cast-iron saucepan. Add the spices, turn the heat down and simmer for 30 minutes until the milk becomes thick. Keep checking that it doesn’t burn on the base of the pan.

Bring the water to the boil in another saucepan. Add the salt and the soaked rice and boil for about 7 to 10 minutes, or until it is cooked. Strain and add the cooked rice to the milk. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting and place on a diffuser, if you have one. If not just keep it on a very low heat. Slow-cook the rice pudding for 3 to 4 hours, stirring frequently and checking occasionally to make sure that the milk remains at least 5cm/2 inches below the rim of the pan and doesn’t catch and burn on the pan.

After 3 to 4 hours, the rice and milk will be thick and gloopy. Add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved, then turn off the heat and stir in the kewra or rose water.

Remove and discard the whole spices from the rice pudding, then decorate with nuts (and figs) and serve warm or cold.