“The Pearls are yellowed now, the rhinestones and silver tarnished and dusty, but when I hold them I can hear her raspy voice, slightly tinged with the Polish accident so prevalent in the working-class Milwaukee neighborhood where she was born” – by Christine May Roblee, from “AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE”
Having written about cookbooks and grandmothers in the now defunct Cookbook Collectors Exchange as well as my blog, you would think I would have said all there is to say on the subject. But other books have a way of being discovered after an article appeared in print in the CCE as well as in Sandychatter. This happens so frequently that I’m not sure whether it’s synchronicity or just the fact that there are so many cookbooks being published that we can’t possibly find out about all of them.
Such was the case with a wonderful book titled “AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE” edited by Ellen Perry Berkeley, published by Fairview Press and published in 2000. “AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE” wasn’t published in time to be included in my first article “Grandma’s Favorite” but it certainly is worthy of review. If I could only use one word to describe “AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE” it would be “charming”.
In the Preface, Ellen Perry Berkeley explains, “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. A stereotype? Possibly. But no less a stereotype than the notion that the grandmothers of an earlier time were ample-bosomed, white-haired and homebound.
“AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE” gives us a far richer view of the women we have called Grandma, or Gram, or Grossmutter, or Nonna (or Grammy, Nana, Oma). Here we see the substance of their brave and often difficult lives. We see the enormous contributions of these women—to their families and to their communities…”
Berkeley also states, “This is a book about connections..in connecting across the boundaries of time, we can see the concerns of our grandmothers, as not unlike our own…”
“AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE” honors a varied group of grandmothers, some children of immigrants and some immigrants themselves, such as my own Grandma Schmidt. These grandmothers represent different circumstances and different heritages. All are seen through the eyes of their granddaughters. As noted by one of the reviewers, “This remarkable collection is a package of time capsules reflecting the rapid changes experienced by women over the past several generations…”
And yes, it’s a cookbook by Ellen Perry Berkeley (again, in the Preface), ,”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 knew her, she had a profound influence on your life and your palate…”
“We see,” says Berkeley, “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 (not least) the foods they served us. It does not demean these women to say that we sometimes evoke them most readily when preparing the dishes they prepared. Indeed, by cooking what they cooked we are in contact again with their lessons and their values, their courage, their comfort, their love…”
Ellen Perry Berkeley explains that “AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE” owes its existence to her own experience with a treasured recipe. “Some years ago,” she writes, “when my cousin Joan and I were each going through difficult times, we spent a day together: a rare treat. We shared our troubles and then, on a whim, made our grandmother’s borscht. Our own trials were somehow lessened by all of this – by our closeness, surely, but also by the knowledge that our grandmother suffered her own disappointments, savored her own triumphs. Grandma Fish’s borscht is more than a beet soup. It was part of her life, and part of our lives with her…”
And like her grandmother’s borscht, the recipes selected for inclusion in “AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE” have been handed down for generations The selection of recipes cuts a wide swatch across America’s culinary heritage, from Grandma Fish’s borscht to Mexican Chicken soup, Gaspache (bread salad) and Leprechaun Salad, to Babkas, Hoecakes and Scottish Oatcakes. There are recipes ranging from Steak and Kidney Pie to Pork and Knadels, and a lot of recipes for desserts—some, I’d venture to guess, that many of us have never heard of before (Rag-a-Muffins? Pussy Feet? Teiglach? (Honey Nut Cookie Squares) Yellow Cat (a popover with Bourbon Hard Sauce) and some may be familiar, such as Biscotti, Persimmon Pudding, Apple Strudel (which my own grandmother often made with apples grown in her own back yard and strudel dough made from scratch).
The women who penned the essays about their grandmothers reads something like a who’s who in the USA – along with artists, teachers photographers, poets, a playwright or two, reporters, columnists, editors—and even a craniosacral therapist—there are a number of published writers as well, the authors of children’s books, adult fiction, travel guides and even—you will be happy to learn—an editor of two cookbooks. Short biographies of all the contributors can be found at the back of the book, including one for the talented lady who edited “AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE”, Ellen Perry Berkeley.
Berkeley was a senior editor at the ARCHITECTURAL FORUM and ARCHITECHTURE PLUS and is the author of MAVERICK CATS: ENCOUNTERS WITH FERAL CATS (considered to be the only comprehensive book on domestic cats gone wild). She taught writing and criticism in leading architecture schools in the 1970s and was one of seven founders of the Women’s School of Planning and Architecture. He essays and articles have appeared in national and regional publications.
“AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE” are the personal reminisces of over sixty women, as they recall their legendry grandmothers. Accompanying their essays are wonderful photographs that bring to mind our own mothers and grandmothers and even ourselves. It’s a most remarkable book, one you will treasure forever. I think, after reading it, you will come away with a far greater appreciation for all grandmothers—yours and mine and all of those honored in “AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE”. I love this book. I think you will too.
“AT GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE” is available on Amazon.com starting at $7.96 for a new copy or $2.50 for a pre-owned copy. It is available on Alibris.com starting at 99c.
Happy cooking! Happy cookbook collecting!