Cook just like grandma with these ingredients

No matter how long it’s been since Grandma’s cooked for you, we bet you’ll never forget that ‘little something’ in every dish she made. In addition to a pinch of love, she may have used a mystery ingredient or two. Here, we break down the old-fashioned items she probably kept in her cupboard.


Some of us may have seen a container of semi-solid white fat sitting on the kitchen bench at Grandma’s place when we were young. Why not in the fridge, you ask? It’s because lard – which is obtained by rendering the fatty tissue of the pig – is shelf-stable. Richer than butter, it was used for frying and to make the flakiest pastries. It is, however, high in saturated fat, although not as high as butter.

Sweet milk

If you have a recipe book that used to belong to your Grandma, chances are you may have seen ‘sweet milk’ in the list of ingredients. Back in the day, this referred to milk that had just been milked from a cow as it is had a sweet taste. Conversely, once the milk ‘turned’, or curdled, it was called ‘sour milk’, or what we know today as buttermilk.


While currants are not a particularly popular ingredient nowadays, some grandmothers are still fond of the dried grape. Similar to sultanas, currants are good for snacking and add flavour to baked goods and jams, jellies and preserves.


Molasses is a byproduct of making sugar from sugar cane. You may see both light and dark molasses at the supermarket, but most of us are familiar with dark molasses for its colour and thick texture. If you ever made gingerbread biscuits with your grandma, there’s a good chance she was using this (it gives gingerbread its signature rich, brown colour).


This warm, aromatic, oval-shaped dried spice can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes. My grandmother preferred whole nutmeg and would grate it into the dish. It is still used in a variety of dishes today, such as béchamel sauce and a host of cakes, puddings and custards, so you will probably be familiar with its taste and aroma.

Vanilla extract

Called ‘flavouring’ by my grandma, vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in an alcohol-water solution to extract the flavour. Today it’s available in many different forms – vanilla bean, pure vanilla extract, imitation vanilla, for example. Mostly used in baking, all varieties essentially add flavour to your dish.

Cake flour

Who knew such a thing existed? After all, all-purpose flour is ‘all-purpose’, so we shouldn’t need any other kind, right? I believe, though, that cake flour is the secret to why my Grandma’s cakes are always so delicious. Cake flour has a lower level of protein and gluten than all-purpose flour. This affects vital aspects of the cake and pastry making process, yielding cakes that are tender and fluffy and pastries that are flakier. It also works in waffles or pancakes.

Evaporated milk

This is canned milk in which most of the water has been ‘evaporated’ from the product during processing. Shelf-stable and inexpensive, evaporated milk has a caramelised flavour. It’s versatile, and on a whim can be combined with water and used as a substitute for milk in cooking, or slightly frozen and whipped as a substitute for fresh whipped cream.

Sweetened condensed milk

Condensed milk is simply evaporated milk but sweetened with sugar. It’s canned, too, and has a sticky texture and sweet taste. It’s shelf-stable and is typically used in baked goods, desserts and coffee beverages.