Cook­ing in Honey’s kitchen

The Covington News - - Front page -

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.

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