Week #6 Genealogy Blogging Prompt: Let readers in to your kitchen. Discuss your family’s favorite foods. What was a typical Sunday dinner in your childhood house? What did grandma make that had you coming back for more? Were there any dishes that the dog wouldn’t even eat?
This past fall while I was visiting with my Mom, uncle and cousin the topic of Grandma’s cooking came up. My Grandmother, Virginia Billings, lived to be 93 years of age and was the queen of junk food. Whenever you visited her she had candy bars, chips and gum at her fingertips right next to her recliner. She introduced me to coffee when I was about 5 years old by putting milk and honey in it. On Saturday mornings as she would care for her garden, she would have a Coke. One particular morning when I was about 6 and visiting her she asked me if I wanted a Coke for breakfast. I said no and told her that wasn’t good for breakfast. She told me she did it all the time and that it would be our secret so we chuckled and drank our Cokes.
As my family recalled Grandma’s cooking most of the items were desserts. There was the strawberry cake, the bread pudding with a wonderful sauce, and the chocolate cake that has a chocolate icing that hardens a bit. My mother describes the icing:
Have you ever made or eaten fudge made from Hershey’s chocolate? That’s what people used to make and they would pour it onto a buttered plate and cut it in pieces. Current fudge is generally softer than that. At any rate, that is what the icing for the chocolate cake was made of. I think of a thin layer of chocolate over ice cream as a hard shell and that’s not what it was like – just firmer than a typical soft fudge. It’s a very moist chocolate cake, particularly when the fudge poured over it is still warm.
My cousin’s favorite of Grandma’s desserts was the chocolate cake and she has tried to make it several times but can’t get it to be ‘right’. As they discussed it further my Mom shared her observations on how Grandma made it and my cousin noticed differences that she was eager to try so she could again taste Grandma’s chocolate cake.
I only remember the strawberry cake but my recollections of her cooking center on her green beans and the wonderful aroma of them cooking for hours. I feel comforted just thinking about it. Or, there’s the home grown squash that she boiled then covered with cheese, butter, salt and pepper! Mmm, I love them and think of Grandma every time I have them.
I only lived near my grandmother when I was 6 so there were rarely Sunday dinners. Meals at my grandmother’s were never the kind where everyone gathers at a table. One or two of us at a time went single file into the narrow kitchen, got a plate and dished our servings from the pots and pans. Then we went to the living room and began eating while two others went to the kitchen. Everything about food and eating with Grandma was informal and comforting.
Next, my other Grandma…
My Grandma Brown seemed to cook a lot, when I was with her she cooked 3 meals each day. She would often get up before the sun and begin cooking bacon and eggs or hotcakes, as she called them. Then lunch was usually fairly simple but I recall it was typically a warm meal. Supper, as it was called, was a full meal most often with dessert. We sat at the dining room table with all the food at the table and always made sure that there was a place for everyone at the table. Sometimes, there was barely room to wiggle and only one person could get up to go to the kitchen for anything additional.
My favorite meal that Grandma made would have to be chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy. She often made fried chicken or ham, too. My Dad’s favorite dessert that Grandma made was peach cobbler that she was sure to make for him when we came to visit. Some of my favorite foods that she made were her refrigerator cookies and hot rolls. Every thanksgiving I make those hot rolls and I refer to them as Grandma Brown’s hot rolls.
When my grandparents moved to the home on NE 16th, there was a bread store nearby and for years, I knew when we were nearing their home because of the mouth-watering home-cooked meal smell. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that that was not her home cooking but was that store or something nearby. Food was never in short supply at Grandma’s home.
I’m sure my father, aunt and cousins would have much better memories of her food because I didn’t live near her so our visits were limited to one every year or two. Anyone who knew Grandma was probably aware that her hobbies included cooking, canning and various kinds of needlework.
Among many of the items I have about Grandma, I found an article when she was the homemaker of the week for the Oklahoma Times newspaper (click the thumbnail to read the article). The article is not dated but based on the ages listed it would have been between January & June of 1956.
My home was a combination of my grandmother’s homes. Mostly, we ate at the table for dinner. Breakfast was limited to a glass of chocolate milk and toast on weekdays. However, on the weekend Dad would sometimes make pancakes or eggs. I really don’t have much recollection of anything for lunch, except tomato soup or grilled cheese sandwiches on occasion. Mother doesn’t really like sandwiches so those were rare. Mother cooked what she liked and always told me if I cooked then I got to make what I liked.
We always had home-cooked meals at dinner. Mom’s approach to meals was to get in there and get it done. It was done mostly out of a need for us to eat not out of enjoyment of cooking. She is not a clean cook, by that I mean she’s in a hurry to finish so there was a lot of dishes and a mess. Often the pots or pans were scorched on the bottom. Since it seems like the standard was for her to cook and me to clean, I have more memory of the clean-up than the taste of food.
I was a picky eater growing up so mostly I recall things I didn’t like, not because of the cook just because I didn’t like so many things. I was rather ornery so I recall doing things to avoid eating voids I hated. In the mid to late 1960’s the thought was that eating liver often was healthy and Mother was trying to provide healthy meals for us. I hate liver! Mother always made mashed potatoes and gravy to go with the liver but the gravy was made with the liver grease. Gross! Our household rule was that I had to eat at least one Mom or Dad sized bite of the liver. I would cut it into the smallest pieces I could and try to douse it in the mashed potatoes and gravy then hold my nose while I chewed and swallowed. One time, however, I took an extremely long time to eat so my parents had left the kitchen while I finished. So, I threw my pieces of liver behind the refrigerator. I figured by the time we moved in a month or two it wouldn’t be recognizable. Sure enough, they never knew (until I told them years later) and I was saved from gagging the stuff down.
Dinner time was often not a happy time because I constantly voiced my views of the food. If my view was less than good the conversations quickly became one of angry voices particularly from my Dad. I didn’t seem to learn to keep my opinion to myself no matter the unpleasant consequences.
Mother is a good cook (and I’m not just saying that because she’ll likely read this post). She made everything from scratch and we rarely ate out, no one did really. So, Mom read Ladies Home Journal, Woman’s Day and the newspaper and clipped or typed cards of new recipes to try.
During the mid 1970’s during the energy crisis many of our routines changed and that included our foods. We started a garden and grew okra, corn, tomatoes, radishes, potatoes, green beans, and probably things I don’t remember. We had a compost as well. From my teenager view point all of this was unnecessary work.
If you have a garden of any substantial size you will inevitably have more vegetables than you can eat. That was our situation so we had to can some of those things. I can remember Saturday morning seeing mother canning. I rarely helped with the canning because I was cleaning the house or helping Dad with a project. Also, Mom began making all of our bread and that was also a Saturday morning routine. It was a fabulous routine that even my friends recall. Recently, my Mom and one of my old friends joined Facebook and commented to Mom “I remember how your house always smelled of baking bread back on North Carolina.” We had to make one loaf to eat fresh from the oven and then the others to hold us throughout the week.
The Sunday morning routine often involved waking up to Mom braising a roast then preparing the roast and putting it in the oven, which had a timer to start and stop. It was wonderful to come home from church starving and knowing that there was this amazing meal. The only thing we had left to make was the buttery biscuits, which is my all time favorite food that I can remember from Mom. The photo I’ve used on the recipe card shows Mom from the time period when we made these biscuits weekly.
Desserts seem to be a theme throughout my food memories. We went through a period of time when I was growing up where we made brownies or chocolate chip cookies just about every weekend. The cake-type brownie recipe is from the Better Homes and Garden cookbook and the chocolate chip cookies recipe is from the back of the Nestle toll house chips. At one point I took over making these desserts. The cookies were great and one of my friends told my Mom “Kay knows where it’s at in cookie land”.
Times changed after I graduated from college. Mom was very busy with her opera, singles’ groups and church so my brother has commented to me that his memories of food are very different than mine. It would be interesting to read what he would have to say.
Good food is a reason to sing in our family.