Every week day from 10am till 3pm, the wood-panelled Thirties interior of the Elderfield pub sees a vintage pop-up with a difference. The NANA comfort food café is run by over-60s women from Clapton, who cook and serve traditional food of a cockle-warming variety. This new cooperative venture is already a hit – their pancake day party saw five solid hours of frying-pan action. And the warm atmosphere and bargain grub makes it a popular stop-off for local families.
This project for older women was set up by a young one – Katie Harris. She has always worked with older people for councils and the NHS, and has a passion for improving respect and recognition for senior citizens. Katie hates the fact that older people are seen as passive recipients of social services, exclaiming that she meets people who are “totally smashing it” in their 80s.
This is a very personal project, inspired by Katie’s relationship with her own Nana, a teacher who lived nearby and taught her to sew, cook, knit, paint and draw. The menu is influenced by Katie’s Nana’s standbys, and features cosy classics such as cottage pie, dippy eggs and fish finger sandwiches. But Katie wants to celebrate the diversity of her growing band of Nanas, who have Indian, Caribbean and Jewish backgrounds. She outlines her idea for “NANA fusion food”, such as cheesy toast with spicy hot pickle.
While there’s a kitsch and fun element to the project, NANA also has a thoughtful side. Katie is keen to recruit Nanas who are still active, but on the cusp of being socially isolated. She hates the idea of people only getting help when they reach a crisis. And she is sensitive to isolation amongst younger people too, who can feel cut off from the older generation in London.
At the moment though, the two main groups in the café are the Nanas and local mums – both potentially under-stimulated and lonely. Local history talks are underway, with plans for craft classes and lectures. Katie envisages the NANA franchise country-wide – she studied in Glasgow, and loves the idea of a hard-talking, warm-hearted Glaswegian granny café. Eat Hackney hopes Katie’s plans come to pass, and can confirm that £1 tea poured from a floral teapot by a kindly Nana is a thing of beauty.
This is Katie’s Nana’s Victoria sponge recipe – the weight of the eggs determines that of the other ingredients, for a well balanced sponge. And here’s how to make perfect cucumber sandwiches, another essential component of an afternoon tea.