Grandmas are moms with lots of frosting. ~Author Unknown~
Grandma always made you feel she had been waiting to see just you all day and now the day was complete – Marcy DeMaree.
Grandmothers are just “antique” little girls. ~Author Unknown~
Grandmothers are getting good press these days—whether in cookbooks, in children’s’ books about grandparents, or in memoirs written by loving grandchildren. I typed “grandmothers” into Google and was rewarded with over three million hits.
Quite a few grandmother-theme cookbooks are being published.
Why are our grandmothers’ recipes taking center stage? Didn’t most past generations applaud anything “just like mama used to make?” Have we skipped past our mothers cooking to focus on that of our grandmothers and, if so, why?
Actually, there are a number of cookbooks devoted to our mothers’ favorite recipes but just between you and me, my own mother was not what you’d call the world’s greatest cook. My mother never heard of al dente, – she’d boil a pan of canned vegetables for an hour…and when mom cooked cabbage, she’d put the pot of cabbage onto the stove to start cooking at 9 O’clock in the morning. We ate dinner at 6 PM at night. My mother’s rice was like a lump of library paste – I didn’t discover that I liked cabbage or rice until I was an adult living in California, and realized that it wasn’t the food I disliked, just the way my mother cooked it.
What mom was good at was stretching a dollar to feed a family of seven for a week during depression and wartime years. We grew up on mostly one-pot meals of stew, chili or soup, made with very little meat or soup bones. (Little did anyone guess how healthy these meals would turn out to be!) My father and brothers would dig the marrow out of the bones and spread it on crackers to eat. When my sister Barbara saw Martha Stewart doing a program about marrow and eating it, my sister crowed –“To think,” she said, “Martha is talking about and eating marrow when that was what we poor folk ate in the 1940s”.
My paternal grandmother, Grandma Schmidt, was the acknowledged cook in the family. Grandma made her own noodles – sometimes all of the backs of wooden kitchen chairs would be filled with noodles laid out to dry. She made strudels of cherries or apples or (my favorite) spicy pumpkin–or whatever fruit was in season. None of this frozen Filo dough! Grandma made her strudel dough from scratch. She also made an incredibly decadent Dobos Torte, a dozen or so thin spongy layers of cake interspersed with semi sweet chocolate frosting.
My sister, Barbara recalled that applesauce making was a family project in which everyone was put to work. Even small children could help peel the apples—although the actual cooking of the sauce was left to grandma and her daughter and daughters in law. (When there were too many apples or maybe Grandma had her fill of making applesauce, a grandchild would be sent down the street with a wagonload of apples to give to the nuns at St. Leo’s, our parish church).
What I do remember about the canned applesauce is that, during the War years, it was made sans sugar. We had jars and jars of applesauce in the cellar, long after World War II was over, all of it made with sour cooking apples, none of it sweetened. You sprinkled a little sugar and cinnamon on the applesauce as you were eating it.
My grandmother’s cooking was a hodge-podge of German, Hungarian and Jewish cuisine. (Grandma was German; Grandpa was Hungarian and Grandma worked for a Jewish family when she first came to America. No matter; as children, we referred to all of it as “German food”. Many years later, I would discover that what we called “German pancakes” were actually Hungarian Palacsinta, a kind of cousin to the French crepes. We sometimes ate the paper thin pancakes, spread with jelly and rolled up, on our way back to school after lunch.
We grew up on, (and took for granted) Hungarian Gulyas (goulash) and chicken paprikas, Sauerbraten and Hasenpfeffer (not my favorite recipe; we won’t go there…), a cheese strudel (remarkably similar to Jewish Blintzes), Blutwurst (which translates, literally, as blood sausage) which was utterly delicious with chunks of freshly baked hot salt bread. Grandma made a chicken broth in which were sprinkled rivels—a kind of tiny egg dumpling, which was pretty good eating along with fried wurst (sausages) and hot freshly baked salt bread.
My grandfather enjoyed, I recall, a dish made up of cooked potatoes, noodles and eggs—but I have never seen a recipe and have never quite duplicated it. It might have been something thrown together with leftovers…or maybe you needed homemade noodles to make it right.
Grandma also made wonderful doughnuts—and on the Feast of the Three Kings—you could expect to find a coin, either a nickel or a dime—in your doughnut. I don’t have many memories of my grandfather, a professional tailor who died when I was eight years old. I do remember sitting on his lap, in a rocking chair in the kitchen, while we watched Grandma remove doughnuts from the hot oil and lay them on brown paper bags to drain before she sprinkled them with sugar. I also have fond memories of running down to the corner, where the streetcar route ended, to meet him when he came home from work, and carrying his black metal lunchbox back to their house on Baltimore Street.
My Aunt Dolly was the only smart one amongst us. Aunt Dolly was only about 15 years old when she married Uncle Hans, Grandma’s middle child. Aunt Dolly didn’t know how to cook but recognized good cooking when she tasted it. As a young bride, Aunt Dolly stood at her mother in law’s elbow and learned how to make everything Grandma made. Aunt Dolly is our last living link with Grandma’s recipes, since none of them were ever written down. Grandma’s recipes were all in her head; she mixed a pinch of this or a dab of that, ‘enough flour’ so the dough wasn’t too sticky and enough salt in the soup so that it tasted ‘just right’—but not salty!
American writer Linda Henley wrote, “If God had intended us to follow recipes, He wouldn’t have given us grandmothers” (from “IN PRAISE OF GRANDMOTHERS”. Isn’t that the truth!
It was only in later years that my siblings and I, along with our cousins, realized that one of Grandma’s greatest gifts to all of us wasn’t in her cooking – delicious though it was – but rather, in her ability to make each and every grandchild feel special. We each grew up believing WE were grandma’s favorite. It wasn’t something she ever said – it was something each of us felt.
She was our anchor; she went to bat for you. She’d stop whatever she was doing to make you a chicken-and-lettuce sandwich, first going out to her garden to pick some fresh leaf lettuce…she would take you downtown with her, to see a movie and maybe get a grape juice drink and a hot dog afterwards. She’d make hot tea with lemon, and you’d have that as a bedtime snack, along with butter and crackers (real butter—Grandma didn’t believe in oleomargarine). She loved to travel, to see things—whether it meant traveling to Niagara Falls with a carload of grandchildren or getting on a streetcar and making a Sunday trip to the Cincinnati Zoo. (My brother Jim thinks we must be part gypsy since we all love to travel and move around to different parts of the country).
I can remember a few occasions of becoming sick at school and at least once two older school girls walked me up the street to Grandma’s. Grandma put me in her bed with a hot water bottle and gave me an Alka Seltzer; then I napped sumptuously on her bed, dozing while I could smell the cotton cloth of clothing being ironed, and hear Grandma’s daytime radio soap operas, like Stella Dallas.
Erma Bombeck once wrote, “Grandmas…can shed the yoke of responsibility, relax, and enjoy their grandchildren in a way that was not possible when they were raising their own children. And they can glow in the realization that here is their seed of life that will harvest generations to come.” (From “IN PRAISE OF GRANDMOTHERS”).
My brother Bill tells a hilarious story of the time he and our cousin Johnny, one hot summer day, found a tool in Grandma’s basement that Johnny figured would turn on the water faucets at the Junior High school up the street. The two boys went up to the school and turned on all the outside water faucets. They were having a wonderful time dancing in the spray of water as it flooded the parking lot, when they noticed police cars and fire trucks ascending the hill to the school. The two boys quickly turned off the water and taking a back trail, hurried back to Grandma’s, where they sat (completely drenched) on a side step. Of course, the police and firemen arrived, having been advised by other children that Billy and Johnny were the culprits. When the authorities approached Grandma, she would have none of it. Brandishing her broom, she insisted “her boys” (although dripping wet and looking mighty sheepish) hadn’t left the property all day. After the police and fire department left, Grandma shook a finger at the two boys. “Don’t either of you DARE to leave this yard for the rest of the day” she warned.
Joyce Brothers wrote “Becoming a grandparent is a second chance for you have a chance to put to use all the things you learned the first time around and may have made mistakes on. It’s all love and no discipline. There’s no thorn in this rose”. (From “A TRIBUTE TO GRANDMOTHERS”.
And now, being a grandmother, I know this is true.
And so, in honor of grandmothers, here are some cookbooks with written in their honor. It’s not just that this is a random selection; these are the Grandmother cookbooks on my bookshelves. I’m willing to bet there are many more “out there” waiting to be discovered.
“JUST LIKE GRANDMA USED TO MAKE”, by Lois Wyse, with Liza Antelo and Sherri Pincus, published by Simon & Shuster in 1998, offers more than 170 heirloom recipes and an easy to read format that I really love. In the introduction, Lois (yes, THAT Lois Wyse, author of many books, including “FUNNY, YOU DON’T LOOK LIKE A GRANDMOTHER” and “GRANDCHILREN ARE SO MUCH FUN, I SHOULD HAVE HAD THEM FIRST”) comments in the introduction “Our grandmothers often failed to realize (and so did many of us) that what we most wanted to hand down to us were her recipes. Grandmother food the way Grandmother made it. But who of our grandmothers was precise when it came to measuring? Grandmother made food by feel and taste…some of our grandmothers, of course, came from countries and times when the girl in the family was not the one taught to read and write…”
“Yet”, Lois adds, “Even when we know the recipes, we sometimes have trouble getting ‘the grandma touch’…” Lois relates the story of family members trying for years to duplicate their grandma’s strudel. No one was successful—the day that Lois perfected the recipe, she received a telephone call telling her that grandma had passed away. “Then she knew she could go in peace” Lois relates.
“What is it,” she asks, perhaps rhetorically, “that gives grandmother food its special taste?”
“Certainly love plays a part,” Lois writes, “but so does a sure touch.”
She reminds us that our grandmothers made their food by heart and by touch and with a kind of familiarity that came with the territory.
“JUST LIKE GRANDMA USED TO MAKE” is a fun cookbook but also one with a lot of recipes you will want to try. Since this book was published over a decade ago, you may want to search for a pre-owned copy. Amazon has both new and used starting at 12c for pre owned and only $4.59 for a new copy.
“FROM MY GRANDMOTHER’S KITCHEN” by Viviane Alchech Miner, with Linda Krinn, is a Jewish cookbook of Sephardic recipes—combining Turkish, Greek, Bulgarian, Rumanian and Spanish Cuisines. The book was first published in the USA by Triad Publishing Company in 1984. What I have is a soft cover edition printed in 1986 by Comet Books in London. I don’t remember where I found it but it was marked down and I considered it a rare find. We learn that as a young girl, Viviane spent many cherished hours in her grandmother’s kitchen, absorbing the lively and creative approach to cooking that has been central to her family’s way of life for generations. In “From My Grandmother’s Kitchen” Viviane shares her rich and diverse culinary heritage, a cuisine that has evolved over centuries of migration by the Sephardic Jews. Included with recipes are childhood memories and family photographs.
This appears to be a rare cookbook; no new copies are available on Amazon and the pre owned copies start at $19.01. However, I found several listed on Alibris.com starting at 99c!
I found “RECIPES FROM a GERMAN GRANDMA” a few years ago and in the process became acquainted with the author, Stephen Block who also has a website called the Kitchen Project. (http://www.kitchenproject.com/german) “Recipes from a German Grandma” is almost the kind of cookbook my family might have written if we had not called ours “Grandma’s Favorite” but the Block family went a step farther with their cookbook project and in it you will find all of the German recipes our ancestors liked to cook and bake, such as Spaetzles which are tiny dumplings, Goulash, and Sauerbraten, Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage, Strudel dough and Apfel Kuchen (which is apple cake), and all the German cookies that we love so much—lebkuchen and Pfeffernusse, Cinnamon Stars and Fruit Cake Bars – many of the very same cookies I bake every Christmas to bring back the memories (and the scent) of my grandmother’s kitchen. I was especially pleased to see an authentic goulash recipe in “Recipes from a German Grandma” – you may recall that it is a pet peeve of mine that people mix anything and everything into a pot and call it goulash. That’s a STEW, not a goulash. The Block family goulash is pristine with nothing resembling a vegetable except onion and should be served over hot noodles. My grandmother’s goulash had some carrots and potatoes added to it; that might have been to extend the meal to feed a hoard of hungry grandchildren.
To order a copy of “Recipes from a German Grandma”, visit this website. The cost of the cookbook is $16.95. Go to: http://www.kitchenproject.com/cmd.php?Clk=4222039
Similarly, but not as well compiled, is a soft cover book titled “RECIPES FROM MY GROSSMUTTER”, subtitled “A Collection of Recipes from Hahndorf Women of Today and Yesterday” which was given to me in 1980, when my penpal Eileen and her husband Jim visited us at our home in North Miami Beach Florida. “Recipes from my Grossmutter” was a Christmas present from Eileen. The book itself was compiled by the Women of St Michael’s Lutheran Primary School in Hahndorf –Australia!
Eileen became my Australian penpal in 1965—now, in 2011 we are still going strong. She and her husband, Jim, flew into Miami, LAX, after traveling in Europe that year, then borrowed our camper and drove it all around the USA. FIRST we spent some time together and several months later, when they returned from their Great American camper trip, they spent several more weeks with us, getting better acquainted. What I like most about “Recipes from My Grossmutter” is the wealth of recipes explaining how to make things pretty much forgotten unless you live in an Amish community. There are directions for making butter and a brine for preserving the butter, for making cottage cheese and yogurt as well as directions for slaughtering a pig and everything you need to know for curing the pig in brine or salt—no, I’m not planning to slaughter a pig anytime soon…but so much of what was commonplace in our grandparents’ lives will be completely lost if someone didn’t take the time to write it all down. (What I might try making sometime is their recipe for blackberry wine-I just need to make another trip to Oregon to get the blackberries!) I did not find any listings for “Recipes from my Grossmutter” on Amazon.com—but bear in mind it was published in Australia. I DID find a couple of listings for the book on Ebay.
End of Part One TO BE CONTINUED
–Sandra Lee Smith