“THE SECRET TO TENDER PIE” is subtitled “America’s Grandmothers Share Their Favorite Recipes”. Compiled by Mindy Marin and published in 1997, it is a tribute to Mindy’s own grandma. “Some of these delicious, old-fashioned recipes,” we learn, “are pulled from the backs of kitchen drawers and corner cupboards, some strictly from memory, never before written down. Some were scrawled in faded ink on yellowed bits of paper, some scrupulously copied from the margins of old cookbooks. Mindy’s own Grandma, Bessie Cecil revealed the secret to her unforgettable apple pie made from Gravensteins or Granny Smiths. And along with all the different recipes that have been contributed to make a success out of “The Secret to Tender Pie” are the wonderful photographs – photographs of grandmothers, when they were young girls, accompanied by photographs of the grandmothers today (well, today being 1997 when the cookbook was published). The favored recipes cut a wide swath across America’s landscape – from Irish Soda Bread to Papoo’s Pancakes (I just learned from Tom Hanks on Oscar night that Papoo is Greek for Grandpa!); there is a recipe for Cheese Blintzes, which I love, to a Kwanzaa Bean Soup and Arroz Frito (Mexican fried rice). Not to be overlooked is Obachan’s Special Teriyaki Sauce – or the story that accompanies it, of a family that began with a husband and wife marrying in Japan in 1924, of immigrating to the Sacramento Valley where they farmed for many years – of being interned in Japanese prison camps during WW2 and ultimately, to their return to farming. I love that “Obachan” means “Beloved Grandmother” in Japanese. There are these and many other recipes and stories—but be sure to read about Grandma Bessie’s Apple Pie, the inspiration for Mindy’s book.
“The Secret to Tender Pie” is available on Amazon.com; there are many pre-owned copies listed, starting at one cent (you will always pay $3.99 shipping and handling for pre owned books purchased on Amazon).
“Grandma’s Hands,” subtitled “The heart and soul of New Orleans Cooking” is by Deirdre Guion and was copyrighted in 1998. In the Prologue, Deirdre explains that “this book started as a project” for her and her grandmother in 1995. Deirdre writes. “At the time, I was very concerned about my grandmother and wanted to find something meaningful for her to do that she would enjoy. Several years earlier, Granny sustained a terrible fall that resulted in permanent spinal cord injury. This previously vital and lively woman was suddenly paralyzed from the shoulders down…”
Deidre relates that as the years went by, her grandma often became despondent and stated more than once that she didn’t feel useful. (*and not to change the subject, but I could wholeheartedly related to Deirdre’s story—because when my own grandma no longer felt useful, she lost her zest for living and died not long after. I have always believed that, if she had kept her house, that alone would have helped her have a continued purpose in life. But I digress. This is Deirdre’s story).
It was suggested to Deirdre that they engage on a project to preserve some of their family’s history and traditions. Immediately, recipes came to mind. “You see,” Deirdre explains, “I grew up in a family that cooks. Most if not all the recipes were handed down orally while we learned how to cook…” Deirdre knew this would be a tremendous understanding since her grandma had surely forgotten more recipes than Deirdre would ever know.
On granny’s 70th birthday the family held a big birthday bash and it was then that Deirdre presented her grandmother with a tape recorder and a box of cassettes to begin the process. And while some good progress was made on the recipes, Deirdre reveals that some incredible family stories came to light. “Embedded within the recipes were delightful stories of my family’s traditions. And eventually, she knew she had a collection that needed to be shared Therefore, “Grandma’s Hands” isn’t just a cookbook even though you will find recipes for red beans and rice, Jambalaya, Shrimp Creole, honest-to-goodness southern Fried Chicken, Seafood Gumbo and many other true southern recipes, you will be equally enchanted with the stories Deirdre shares with us. Her Grandma passed away in 1996, but she lives on through her recipes in “Grandma’s Hands”.
I’m afraid I haven’t found any copies of “Grandma’s Hands” at a reasonable price – most seem to start at $45.00. The original price on the cookbook was $15.95. (I think I paid about $5.00 for my copy).
“GRANDMOTHERS OF GREENBUSH”, subtitled “Recipes and Memories of the old Greenbush Neighborhood” spans the decades starting with 1900 to 1925. This loving tribute by Catherine Tripalin Murray was written as a way of recapturing the past. “However,” writes Ms. Murray, “so much time has lapsed since the neighborhood had disappeared that making necessary connections was often impossible. Announcements made in Madison newspapers, club newsletters, and other ethnic publications drew little interest…” So, the author depended on the famous grapevine as a method of reaching out and friends of the Italian community who had known her grandmother “tucked me under their wings and carried me back to the old days with poignant stories of the past…”
Catherine Murray explains in the Introduction that her grandmother died a week before she was born. She never had a chance to feel her hugs, hear her Sicilian songs, see her smile or discover the twinkle of pride in her eyes…”’ Her grandmother, who would have been called “Nonna” was a link to Catherine’s Sicilian heritage and the Greenbush neighborhood in Wisconsin where she lived. From the stories shared, Catherine learned about other grandmothers who lived in cold water flats, unheated apartments bungalows and two-story homes. “When we return to the memory of our grandmothers” Catherine writes, “we see dusty upstairs attics where things were stored in old trunks and boxes and basements where bread was baked on hot summer days and served in the coolness of its depths at suppertime…we savor memories of kitchens where kettles filled with soups and sauces were stirred with long-handled wooden spoons and ovens were warm to the touch with nourishment for the family and anyone else who happened to stop by at the last moment….”
“Greenbush in all its glory” says the author, “was a 52 acre plat comprised of ten blocks that formed a triangular shaped neighborhood. The area didn’t expand as neighborhoods tend to do today…”
“The area was razed during an urban renewal project in the 1960s; residents were scattered throughout the city, leaving behind only memories and the roots of grapevines hidden deep beneath the surface of the neighborhood our grandmothers so loved…”
What follows are chapters filled with photographs or sketches, and short biographies of the grandmothers of Greenbush, along with one of the favorite recipes of that person.
Amazon.com has copies of “Grandmothers of Greenbush” starting at $3.82.
I’m a great believer that concepts, ideas, thoughts – are all swarming out there in the Universe, waiting to be tapped into. I think it’s why an idea for a book or an invention may be developed by more than one person at the same time. For instance, I had the idea of collecting three ingredient recipes back in the 1970s when 3-ingredient beer bread became popular. I collected a few three ingredient recipes and got sidetracked with something else going on in my life; it may have been about this time that I went back to work full time. Well imagine my surprise when 3, 4, 5, 6, and even 7 ingredient cookbooks became all the rage. Well, I think you could say the same about some of the grandmother books. The Grandmothers of Greenbush was published in 1996. In 1997, a big thick cookbook titled “In Nonna’s Kitchen/Recipes and Traditions from Italy’s Grandmothers” was written by Carol Field and published by HarperCollins.
Fewer photographs but many more recipes grace the pages of “In Nonna’s Kitchen”. In the introduction, Ms. Field writes, “Every Italian has a grandmother story. ‘My grandmother used to make a treat for me by packing a thimble with moist chestnut flour. I watched her press it down hard and then put it in the embers of the fire’ remembers a very old Tuscan handyman, ‘and when she pulled it out after a few minutes, she tapped sharply on the top and out fell a perfect little mound. It was my snack, something special for me to eat’”
Elsewhere, Field writes, “Many of today’s Italian grandmothers, women in their sixties, seventies, eighties and even nineties, still live with a strong attachment to the kitchen, and still think about cooking as their own grandmothers and great-grandmothers did, which is why what they cook is called la cucina della nonna. They are a link to an earlier time in the country’s past..”
“In Nonna’s Kitchen/Recipes and Traditions from Italy’s Grandmothers” is a big book, packed with the history of Italy, stories about its grandmothers—and most importantly, their recipes.
You can purchase “In Nonna’s Kitchen” new, from Amazon.com, for $26.14 or check out the many pre-owned copies starting at $6.66. Alibris.com has pre-owned copies starting at $3.35 and Barnes & Noble has pre-owned copies starting at $3.40. Take your pick!
Another really interesting cookbook came to me from over the pond –“YOUR GRANNYS COOK BOOK” by Sheila Hutchins is a Daily Express Publication and is an unusual collection of old family favorites from all over the country – the “country” being Great Britain—contributed to the Daily Express by the newspaper’s readers.
“The whole thing began”, Sheila Hutchins explains, “ when I said in the Daily Express two years ago that there were hundreds of marvelous old dishes in Britain that were gradually being forgotten, wonderful things that your granny and my granny used to cook and that if we were going to save these things we would have to do it quickly before they died out and disappeared. For Britain,” she adds, “is changing and our eating habits are becoming international and Americanised and it will be a great pity, not least for the tourist trade, if everywhere becomes exactly like everywhere else. So I asked you [the Daily Express readers] to send me recipes for things just like your granny cooked. It had to be granny, I thought, for it is she who remembers the really good cooking…”
Sheila received thousands and thousands of letters from all over the country. She received letters from retired cooks, from former kitchen maids at great country houses, from farmers’ wives, from aunts, great-aunts and grandmothers, some in spidery copperplate handwriting.
“They speak in many different voices with many different accents,” Sheila notes, “and most of the recipes have their own regional flavor…”
Some readers sent her whole hand-written cookery books (oh, to have been able to see those!) “There are all kinds of half-forgotten lovely things which people always eat for Christmas and I have given details of some of the often neglected gastronomic delicacies….” Elsewhere Sheila notes, “Much of the food that granny cooked, though cheap, is still as delicious as ever and many of her slow simmered stews and sausage pots and things would be worth making in double quantity so that half may be stored in the deep freezer…”
Sheila regretted that there were too many recipes to include everything in the book and often too many of the same thing such as Yorkshire pudding being made differently in various parts of the country.
“YOUR GRANNY’S COOK BOOK” is regional England at its best—great reading and lovely illustrations. It was published in 1971. Amazon.com has a few pre-owned copies starting at just over $8.00 while Barnes & Noble didn’t have any copies of the book. Alibris.com has a hardbound copy for just under $15. My own copy is paperback and somewhat worn so $15 sounds pretty good to me for a nice hardcover cookbook. ***
“Grandma Doralee Patinkin’s Holiday Cookbook, subtitled “A Jewish Family’s Celebrations” was written by Doralee Patinkin Rubin with the introduction presented by Mandy Patinkin, whose name you may recognize from TV, film and theatre. Doralee realized, after meeting cookbook author Joan Nathan (who wrote “Jewish Cooking in America”) that she, too, had enough recipes to fill a cookbook. “I realized that many of my recipes,” she writes in the Preface, “which I have prepared for more than fifty years, are, in reality, over one hundred years old…”
She says that certain foods define certain holidays, such as potato latkes on Hanukah and Hamentashen at Purim and that “Food is bound up in our memories of all our holidays as it is in any ethnic origin…”
The feature I appreciate most about Granda Doralee Patinkin’s Holiday Cookbook is that the recipes/chapters are divided into Jewish holidays followed by a menu for each holiday and the recipes to serve. Although I’m not Jewish, I’ve had Jewish friends ever since we moved to California in 1961 and my best friend, Rosalia, introduced us to many of the Jewish holidays and meals. I like knowing about the Jewish holidays and knowing whether the holiday is a solemn one or a joyous celebration. But Grandma Doralee provides menus and recipes for many other events – a holiday buffet or a Bridal luncheon, a brunch or a patio supper/barbeque—this book will be a young or new cook’s best friend in the kitchen.
Grandma Doralee Patinkin’s Holiday Cookbook was published in 1999. I did a little research. Amazon.com has many copies, both new and pre owned. New copies start at $8.00 and used, paperback copies start at one cent. Alibris.com has copies starting at 99c and Jessica’s Biscuit has copies for $7.98 and $10.46.
You might say I’ve saved the best for last—it certainly is one of my favorites. “AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE” is subtitled, “WOMEN WRITE ABOUT FOOD, LIFE, AND THE ENDURING BOND BETWEEN GRANDMOTHERS AND GRANDDAUGHTERS”. It was edited by Ellen Perry Berkeley, who writes in the Preface, “Today’s grandmothers are as likely to be playing tennis as baking pies. Some do both, rinsing away the gray, and in their spare time, holding down a full-time job…”AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE gives us a far richer view of the women we have called Grandma, or Gram, or Grossmutter, or Nonna. Here we see the substance of their brave and often difficult lives. We see the enormous contribution of these women—to their families and to their communities. We see the importance of their relationships with us, their granddaughters, in the lessons they taught us, the values they gave us, the strengths they lent us, and last (not least) the foods they served us…by cooking what they cooked we are in contact again with their lessons and their values, their warmth, their courage, their comfort, their love…”
“This is a book about connections…the book honors a varied group of grandmothers. Some were born to families who had live here for generations, some were the children of immigrants, some were immigrants themselves, and some never set foot on this land. They represent different circumstances, different heritages…”
Elsewhere, Ms. Berkeley writes, “Close your eyes and remember such moments with your own grandmother: what you did together, where you walked, what you looked at, what you laughed at. And, of course, what you ate together. Turn to your own handed-down recipes, those worn cards with their long-ago handwriting, their faded type. Whether you were close to your grandmother or not, whether you even know her, she had a profound influence on your life and your palate. Relive—or create anew—the special memories that her recipes evoke…”
Ms. Berkeley invites us all to be prompted, after reading her book, to put onto paper some words about our own grandmothers (something I have been doing for some years). Writes Ms. Berkeley, “Can’t you just hear the encouragement and praise from that special person? She happily ceases to be a stereotype when she takes her place on the page—the unique and special woman who is grandmother to a unique and special granddaughter…”
It would be an injustice for me to capsulate the dozens of stories told by many different women, often accompanied by photographs of their grandmothers, when—perhaps—photographs were available and to enjoy, perhaps greedily, the recipes they have shared for us to try and make our own. “AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE” is a book to be read at your leisure, savoring it one story and one recipe at a time. Whether reading about “The Penny Jar” or “The Pocket Girl”, “A Legacy Found in Letters” or “Making Do”; “My Old Sweetie” or “Notes from Underfoot” – you will be constantly enchanted. And the recipes! Many of the recipes may be lost to history if we don’t recapture them….and Ms. Berkeley has taken great strides in helping to preserve recipes that might otherwise be lost.
“AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE” is available at Amazon.com from $9.99 new – or (incredible bargain) pre owned starting at sixty five cents. There are a number of hard bound copies starting at 65 cents. I was astonished to find numerous listings starting under a dollar. You will pay $3.99 shipping and handling and have a really great book for less than five dollars.
You know, there are simply dozens or maybe even hundreds of books with “Grandma” or “Grandmother”, “Granny” or “Nana” in the titles. One unusual title is “Granny’s Drawers” by Karen Harris, which has nothing to do with underwear but rather offers over 340 recipes from four generations of a southern family. Another in my collection is “Granny Fanny & Cousin EttaMae’s Good Humor Cookin’” a collection from the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. This may have belonged to my sister, Barbara, who lived near Nashville prior to her death in 2004. My copy has a lot of water damage. Another good one is JoAnna M. Lund’s “Grandma’s Comfort Food—Made Healthy” and they are; I’ve marked the page for old fashioned stewed tomatoes.
I wish I could have known my grandmothers better; what we do know are some of their recipes. If you still have a living grandmother, it’s not too late to learn some of her recipes. Perhaps you’ll find some inspiration in one of these cookbooks I have shared with you today.
–Sandra Lee Smith