Cooking in Honey’s kitchen
Today is Grandparents Day, and I find my thoughts drifting back to memories of my grandmother’s kitchen.
My mom’s mother — we call her Honey — taught me how to cook. I was the only grandchild that liked cooking, and she loved mentoring me. I never saw her measure anything; it was always a touch of this and a pinch of that. I still haven’t mastered some of her skills, such as peeling a fresh tomato in one long, paper-thin strip. But I watched closely enough to replicate many of her specialties, including fried squash and vegetable soup.
She taught me more than cooking. Patience, creativity and persistence were learned by example during those long afternoons together by the stove.
It’s been years since I cooked with Honey, as her health nowprohibits it. Knowing that I’m not likely to ever eat anything she prepared again is truly one of the saddest things about her growing older.
I value the cooking tips I’ve learned from all the grandmothers I’ve known through the years. Did you know that if you add a pinch of baking soda when you’re making iced tea, it strengthens the flavor drawn from the bags? Or that when making potato salad, it’s much easier to boil potatoes with the skins on than to waste time peeling them beforehand—the skins slip right off after cooking.
Some grandmothers are better at teaching us what not to do. My dad’s mother, my Granny, enjoyed cooking and baking, but was notorious for burning everything. She always pointed to Grandpa: “That’s how Herbert likes it!” He confessed years later that he actually disliked burnt food. It was just easier to eat it than to argue about it.
But “That’s how Herbert likes it” became a part of my family’s vocabulary, and something we still laugh about today. As a matter of fact, I said it just last night when I got distracted while cooking and burned the okra. My husband said it looked like chipped asphalt, but it wasn’t that bad. I bet poor old Grandpa Herbert would’ve crunched his way through a serving or two.
Adding a little ketchup helped that charred okra go down, but it wouldn’t have been an option for my friend Jeanne at her grandmother’s house. “She didn’t believe in Heinz ketchup. She made her own and it was terrible. She bottled it in an old green 7-up bottle. She put it on almost everything she ate—it was disgusting.”
My friends Beverlee and Sandra also recall traumatic experiences in their grandmothers’ kitchens.
Beverlee shares, “She used to make gefilte fish, which is a traditional Jewish dish of minced fish cakes. I just remember looking at this pot full of fish heads on her stove. Maybe that’s why I’m vegetarian now!”
Poor Sandra found herself even more informed about where her food came from. “I remember being outside with my grandma chatting while she adjusted a long wire with a hook. Before I knew it she swept the long hook in the hen house and brought out ‘dinner’. Without skipping a beat she twisted its neck and hooked another. I’m sure my eyes were as big as saucers.”
Some of my friends’ dearest memories of grandma include special dishes or cookware. Diane cherishes a plate culled from her grandmother’s collection. “There was one in particular that I loved. It had the prettiest pattern. She had a mishmash of plates and dishes because she never threw any of them away. When she moved out of her house to live with my parents, I kept one of those plates even though it had cracked glaze and a couple of chips on it. The memories that small plate has for me are priceless.”
Michelle’s paternal grandmother rarely cooked, but she was known for her pot roast. “She had a special Dutch oven that had a lid with a raised design on the inside of it—the moisture was supposed to drip back into the food while it was cooking. My mom has that pot and I’ll probably inherit it.”
I personally covet Honey’s pressure cooker. I have tried to copy her green beans for years, to no avail. I’m convinced that the missing ingredient is that exact pot.
It’s so important to me to carry on these family recipes, to show my boys and hopefully, daughters-in-law and grandchildren the same joys that Honey taught me in the kitchen. It’s one precious way to keep her with us, forever.