25. At Grandmother's Table
edited by Ellen Perry Berkeley
fourth book for the Foodie's Reading Challenge
I have no memories of either of my grandmothers doing any cooking, except for one who made homemade bread. Perhaps this is because by the time I came along they were old and tired from having brought up many, many kids. Maybe they were ready to not cook anymore. I loved my grammies but they weren't part of my everyday life. I saw them occasionally, but they didn't impart any words of wisdom to me, or play games, or bake me cookies. They were simply kind, dear women who wore housedresses and sat in chairs most of the time.
Two of my favorite pictures. The left is my mother's mother with me on her lap, and the right is my father's mother at sixteen, a photo given to me when I turned that age.
This book is a tribute to many grandmothers. The chapters are organized according to when the grandmothers were born, beginning in the 1840s and going through the 1910s. There are as many different stories as there are grandmothers. Some of the women never knew their grandmothers while others were practically raised by them.
There is a grandmother named Katie Pearl Spinks Chester who was a great reader, and her granddaughter says:
Today I'm a buyer of books that I wish my Gran could have read, for during her entire life she devoured the printed word much as her family devoured her food.
I remember my garrulous Gran when she had auburn hair and freckles and dished up butter beans and talk on summer Sundays; but I also remember my solitary Gran in late afternoon, with her books.
Another grandmother named Charlotte Flemings Myers never touched alcohol, and yet her son (the writer's father) was:
an alcoholic full of table-thumping rage or back-slapping joy, usually yelling or laughing too loud.
There is poetry in the pieces such as this writing about Maria Arcangela Barbara Ferrarese Savino:
All I have to do is inhale deeply, and in the bottom of my lungs is the air of my life with her, the sweet, spicy scent of a basil, rose, and mint garden.
There is a grandmother who is known only as Grandmother Komninos:
I do not know her first name. In fact, I know her only through one of my father's precious few photographs from "the old country," as he called his native Greece. Was she stern like her pose, or lighthearted and fun-loving like my father? ... she starved to death during the Nazi embargo of Greece, along with her husband and hundreds of thousands of their countrymen.
A granddaughter writes of her grandmother's great love story. Josie Lou Lydia Walker Blakey married late in life for 1929. She was thirty-two and her husband, thirty-four. They were married for sixty-four years.
They never walked down a hall without her arm through his. She always laughed at his jokes. He couldn't sit next to her without touching her. Even late in life, they were frequently taken for honeymooners.
This wonderful book is made up of such stories. Each is only a few pages long written with love and sometimes longing. And each story contains a recipe or two. The other night I tried one from a grandmother called Madeline Heiskanen Fiedler.
Grandma's Finnish Pancakes
These light, thin pancakes are the Finnish version of crêpes suzette. They are quick to make, and most cooks have the ingredients on hand. My mother made them as a special treat in the middle of the winter when we wanted something different for dinner. Grandma made them on Halloween when we were too excited and rushed to eat a regular meal.
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
Butter or oil for oiling the pan
Beat the eggs well, then add the milk, flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Mix until there are no lumps and the batter is the consistency of cream.
Butter a hot, medium-sized frying pan. Ladle in just enough batter to fill pan. Turn the pancake over when the top is full of bubbles and the bottom looks cooked. (Because these pancakes are thin, they cook very fast.) Serve with preserves or powdered sugar.
This recipe makes 4 to 5 pancakes. To make 15 to 20 pancakes, increase both the milk and the flour to 1 1/2 cups, but keep all other ingredients the same.
The only thing I did differently was to use cooking spray in the pan. These were just great, and a little different from another recipe
I posted a few years ago. Tom topped his with maple syrup and I used a sprinkling of confectioners' sugar.
Just as I finished the first chapter of At Grandmother's Table, I texted my cousin in Texas to see if she would like a couple recipes from our grammy, which I posted here
. Of course she wanted them, and sent them on to her sister-in-law and her nieces. I can't imagine why none of the cousins have exchanged family recipes. I plan to remedy the situation, and am hoping someone has a lot more than I do. This is the power and rippling effect a book can have. It warms my heart.
I think that everyone who reads my letters would love this book, whether you knew your grandmother or not. It is a fascinating concept and I'm so glad that Ellen Perry Berkeley put together such a very special book.
I read this for the Foodie's Reading Challenge. You may go here
and click on the various categories to read many, many reviews of excellent food-related books.