I loved V’s post on vintage recipes. I knew MawMaw—knew V’s other grandmother, too. Elsie, I must say, was a character—a Wonder Woman. She was a kind, intelligent woman who could have been really something in today’s world of more opportunity for women—she raised a wonderful son mostly on her own. Now that I am “of an age” to appreciate what her life was, my hat is off to her. V has written about her before and must again.
But the topic of recipes and meals with grandmothers is what I want to talk about.
Both my grandmothers came from country stock. My paternal Grandmother, Lyda, was accustomed to cooking for farm hands. She was a humdinger of a cook, too.
When we would go to Lyda’s house for Sunday dinner, there would ALWAYS be these things: Fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, mashed potatoes, a salad and angel food cake with canned peaches, homemade biscuits (I don’t remember rolls) and a variety of vegetables. Those were just staple dishes. (I never see Angel Food Cake without thinking of my grandmother).
What would be different at each meal would be the addition of some of these: ham (often served), pork chops, and what she called “beef roast,” which would be braised in gravy.
Yes, my Grandmother Lyda would serve up to four meat dishes and a groaning table of side items and desserts for Sunday dinner. As I think back, it amazes me, but I realize she was still in farm cooking mode, harkening back to the days when she would have a bunch of hungry men crowded around her table.
My other grandmother, Gertrude, was also a good country cook, but she never served such a lavish table. Gertrude was much, much poorer in her young mother days than Lyda was, and Gertrude’s meals were plentiful in quantity but not so lavish in array was were Lyda’s.
Gertrude would have a main meat dish with sides of vegetables—always potatoes included. On her stove would be a BIG pot of greens of some kind, “cooked down real good.” Ummmm. And her green beans would be “cooked down,” too, with bits of bacon or ham and—yes, it’s true—seasoned with some of the bacon drippin’s (grease) she kept in a container on her stove, adding to it each time she fried bacon. Listen, you youngsters, everyone, including my mother, kept a silver metal drippin’s container on their stove to use for seasoning back in those days.
Something both my grandmothers did is something you don’t see today. Both these women were spotless housekeepers. This was the day before plastic wrap. I don’t recall either of my grandmothers having plastic containers. They kept a big supply of “flour sack” dish towels, clean and folded. When we got up from the noon table (the big meal was always mid-day, not evening), all the leftovers were moved, still in their serving bowls, to the kitchen table where they were covered with clean dish towels, awaiting the evening meal. I don’t remember anything being refrigerated for those several hours between meals. The food just sat at room temperature until folks got hungry and helped themselves again.
And I don’t remember one case, even, of food poisoning.
Neither of these women would understand—nor care to—my grab-and-go lifestyle of Lean Cuisine in the freezer. I don’t much like it, either, but what’s a single girl to do? I have MIL, who graces me with meatloaf and last night let me have the rest of her Stouffer’s lasagna, which was great! But she’s in the same boat—we just don’t cook anymore.
My Grandmother Gertie’s style of poverty cooking was reflected in some of the dishes she was known for. One of them was bread pudding. It was not chunky like bread pudding you see these days, but smooth and rather thin. There was no fancy-dancy whiskey sauce for it. It was just plain left-over bread mixed with milk, eggs, sugar and cinnamon. She usually baked it in a 9 x 13 pan, and it was served room temperature, cut into squares. It was delicious. It was a way to avoid wasting old bread—a delicious way.
Grandma lived about an hour south of us. One time my Aunt N, who lived two doors down from us, made the trek to see her. For some reason, my mother did not go with her. A few days later Mom was speaking with Granny on the phone.
“How’d you like your bread pudding?” Granny asked.
“What are you talking about?” was Mom’s answer.
They got to the bottom of it…It was Mom’s “turn” to get a pudding from Granny, Aunt N having had the last one. When Aunt N visited, Granny sent Mom’s pudding by her….never made it.
“I got it home and it just called to me,” was Aunt N’s confession. “I sat and ate half of it by myself. The boys finished it off.”
These octogenarian sisters will still occasionally say something like, “N, remember when you ate my bread pudding?” Ah, memories.
But we live a freezer/fast-food lifestyle nowadays, don’t we? I think back to Lyda’s huge meals and Gertie’s bacon grease seasoning and wonder at the fact that people were not any heavier than they are today—in fact, I think we have more weight problems today, don’t you?
V’s theory is that, for all the “unhealthy” cooking methods, the food was at least “from scratch” and not processed (except for Lyda’s store-bought Angel Food Cake and canned peaches). I remember both my grandmothers sitting on the porch shelling peas or snapping beans in preparation for the meals. Those sessions of women companionably snapping beans (us kids helping sporadically) were comforting times for me, listening in on their chatter.
Most everything was fresh, and what did come from the freezer had been frozen, “put up” from fresh state by my grandmothers.
I see in V’s vintage recipes the trait both my grandmothers shared—avoidance of waste, turning vegetables that would otherwise be unused into chow-chow and pickles.
But that style of life requires full-time homemakers, something becoming scarcer these days. Different days, different styles.
Oh, for some of Gertie’s bread pudding…. C