Tuesday, March 29, 2011

At Grandmother's Table edited by Ellen Perry Berkeley

25. At Grandmother's Table
edited by Ellen Perry Berkeley
nonfiction, 2000
fourth book for the Foodie's Reading Challenge
finished, 3/22/11

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.

2 eggs
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 and 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.


  1. It's been on my wish list at Amazon...guess I better move it from the cart to purchase it! I am sure it will be right up my alley!
    Thanks for the reminder!
    Joanne, who mailed a wee bit of Spring Cheer your way...hope it arrives soon:)

  2. My gosh, Joanne. I was just writing a comment on your blog as you were writing here - almost to the minute! Wow! This book is definitely for you, and well worth owning. SO looking forward to my mail.

  3. I did it! It is on its way to my house...YEAH!
    Sometimes the encouragement and recommendations of others are just the ticket for motivation.
    Thanks Nan!
    Hugs and Spring Cheer!

  4. Too funny!
    We are on the same page:)
    Joanne, who must leave for work now....

  5. You will love it, Joanne. Besides the great stories, there are lots of recipes.

  6. I love the look of this book and also the quotes that you posted. I'm going to put it on my Amazon wishlist so I won't forget. Don't really want to acquire it right now.

    Loved the pictures of your grandmothers, especially the one with you in her lap. :-)

    My grandmothers were neither one great cooks. I don't think I have any recipes from either of them. However, my husband's grandmother was a good cook and when she moved to Austin to be cared for by her grandchildren (both her children had died), we cleaned out and packed up her room at her assisted living center. I asked her if I could have her cookbook with clippings and notes. I have not ever cooked anything from it, but when I get to my new house, I'm going to unpack it and see if there might be some things that I could use and share with everyone.

  7. This sounds like a great book, Nan! And I'm definitely going to try that recipe. It sounds a bit like what a friend's mother used to make for us when we were in junior high. We ate the "cakes" with butter, powdered sugar and sometimes with strawberry jam. They were delicious!

  8. I've just ordered this from my library! Both grandmothers were part of my everyday life growing up, and my mother's mother seemed to be cooking constantly. So many wonderful memories. Thanks for bringing the book to my attention.

  9. This book appeals to me because I was so close to my mother's mother. We lived only a block apart and she ran a rooming house so when I wasn't in school, I helped her with laundry, ironing, cleaning the rooms, etc. I loved it when she sat on the front porch and I brushed her lovely white hair. She also made delicious noodles. Yum!

  10. Thank you, Kay. I don't have an amazon 'wishlist' - I just put books I think I may want to buy in my cart and click 'save for later.' They stay in there for years sometimes, but it is a good way for me to remember. Then when I am going to put in an order, I go through my list and decide if I want to buy certain items.

    I so loved reading about your husband's grandmother, but how very, very horrible that she outlived both her children. What grief.
    Lucky you to have that cookbook. I so look forward to you posting the recipes. You have a genuine treasure.

    Les, we make crepes pretty often. They are delicious and quick. I think you'll enjoy either this recipe or the actual crepes one I posted.

    JoAnn, you are truly lucky to have had them both in your life and that one of them cooked a lot. Do you have her recipes? You will love this book.

    Barbara, such a wonderful story.There's a hair-brushing story in the book. I think you would get great joy from reading it.

  11. It sounds like a delightful book, right up my alley.
    My own recipe collection would be so much poorer without my late grandmother's recipes. Both were excellent cooks and making the foods they so often made for me is a way to connect with them. I also have their cookware--well-used cast-iron fry pans, casserole dishes. Even a Kitchen-Aid mixer, lovingly re-wired & refurbished!
    When visiting my mother recently, I went through her recipe box and found other treasures from the grandmothers. Next visit, I shall scan them, unfortunately I hadn't enough time.
    One of my favourite NH cookery books is Edna Berquist's, she had her family recipes (plus stories & family lore) published in book form for her children, grandchildren, nieces, etc. High Maples Farm Cookbook is a wonderful document of New England life and food.
    My word verification is "bakintof"--sounds like an actual cookery word, with a Germanic flavour.

  12. Wonderful, Margaret! So lucky that they exist and that you have them! I'd love to see some postings of those recipes. And I'm going to look into the cookbooks you mentioned. Love the word verification. Computers are smarter than we think. ;<)

  13. Margaret, I just saw that the Berquist book is called High Maples Farm cookbook. I misunderstood and thought her book and the HMF were two different ones.

  14. Thanks so much for this post. This books sounds delightful and I can hardly wait to read it, since I so appreciated my grandmother. A beautiful idea to write such a book.

  15. Linda, it really is the best concept for a book. I'm sure it will be very meaningful to you.

  16. My mother's mother made the best pound cake in the world! And tea cakes! My father's mother was famous for her chocolate pie. There was always good food on both of their tables, but the desserts were our delight!

    This post has brought back so many memories...Thanks.

  17. What a delightful sounding book! I love my memories of my grandmothers. One made beans and cornbread and fried potatoes all of the time. Along with that cottage cheese/whipped cream/jello salad. Yum. The other grandmother died when I was 7 but I remember instant oatmeal in tupperware bowls as a special treat at her house. Definitely putting this one on my wish list!

  18. Wonderful Nan!!! I love that the book motivated you to begin sharing family recipes.

    I don't remember my grandmother (I only knew one) cooking...but Bill has very fond memories of meals spent around his grandma's table.

  19. Jenclair, have you ever posted them on your blog? If not, might you consider doing so? How I'd love to see them, and try them, of course!!

    Karla, I'm quite sure this is a book you will love. I'd love to see her beans, cornbread, and fried potatoes recipes!

    Sallie, I wonder if Bill's family has her recipes??

  20. I love the sound of this one. I love my grandmothers and now I love being a grandmother. I think about what memories I'm passing on to my grandchildren.

  21. Margot, it is a very special book, which I think you would particularly love now that you are a grandmother. I so thank you for offering this great challenge. I'm having such fun reading.

  22. By chance I happened upon your blog and I'm writing to thank you for your kind appraisal of my story about memories of my early life with my grandmother. It was my first published piece of writing, and remains valuable for me as a writer. I particularly enjoyed your saying my writing was poetic. The line you quote is the one line I've ever written that I know by heart, because it came to me in the waking moments of a dream one morning. The book itself is one to which I can only feel privileged to have been invited to contribute. I felt carried by the other contributors, by their experienced ability to write with such skill and care. I will always be indebted to my friend Simi Berman, illustrator of At Grandmother's Table, for suggesting me as a contributor to Ellen Berkeley Perry, the editor and contributor of this anthology. After listening to me tell her about my life with my grandmother year after year, Simi challenged me to write it down and submit it to the publishing process. It was a struggle to express such a deep and heartfelt experience in words, but with the encouragement of Simi, my husband Michael, and Ellen herself, it actually made it to press. Most importantly, the experience taught me how to defend my writing, concede as needed, and work with a consummate professional. I will always be grateful for the opportunity. Happening upon your blog was a gift. Thank you again. I also enjoy reading about the richness of your life.
    (Barbara Gravinese)

  23. Barbara, I am so very happy you read this, and left me a note. What a thrill for me! Thank you. I loved reading your story. Thanks again so much.


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