Ispent a lot of time in my childhood in my grandma’s country kitchen, tugging at the hem of her ironed white aprons, each embroidered with bright strawberries or pretty flowers.
My tiny grandma and her little kitchen seemed larger than life to me as a child. A vintage stove anchored one side of the room, while her sparkly countertops were topped by a breadbox that held Little Debbies and Wonder Bread slices.
But the most prized possession in her kitchen was her recipe box. A brilliant baker, my grandma cherished the burnished wood box jammed with beloved and secret family recipes, organized into different categories—Pies, Cakes, Cookies, Breads—and all written in her slanting cursive.
Her Formica dinette table provided the glamorous backdrop for her glorious fresh fruit pies— strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry, apple, cherry—the golden crusts decorated with a pretty “S” for her last name, Shipman, the only demonstrable sign of pride my grandma ever presented.
Her cookies—chocolate chip, oatmeal and thumbprints filled with homemade jams—were devoured before they even had a chance to cool.
That tiny kitchen was not only where my family gathered every Sunday and holiday, but also where I learned to cook and bake, my grandma teaching me the history of our family through the food she made. Her kitchen wasn’t just a place to cook; it was the place where she connected our family’s past to the present.
Her kitchen is where I shared my life with my grandma, too. After baking, she would always cut two slices of pie, pour a cup of coffee for herself and a glass of milk for me, and we’d sit and talk at her table. We’d mostly discuss what I was going to do when I grew up, how I was going to change the world and see places she never had the chance to see.
“What do you think Paris is like in the spring?” she’d ask. “Send me a postcard when you go.”
I was still in college when my grandma hosted her last Thanksgiving. I returned home on break and spent most of my time in the kitchen with her, baking the pies for our family, decorating the tops with that signature “S.” When we finished, she cut two slices and poured the coffee and milk, as always.
“Tell me about Chicago,” she said, eyes wide, elbows resting on her Formica table.
❝Every Thanksgiving, I still make the treasured desserts from my grandma’s recipe box.❞
Every Thanksgiving, I still make the treasured desserts from my grandma’s recipe box. And after I finish, I still cut two slices of pie, pour a cup of coffee for her and a glass of milk for myself, take a seat at my own kitchen table, and tell my grandma all about my life.
WADE ROUSE is a bestselling author of eight books written under his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, to honor the woman whose heirlooms, life, love and lessons inspire his fiction. His current novel, The Recipe Box, draws from his grandmother’s recipe boxes. His next, The Summer Cottage, will be published in April.
Mark a pie with a letter made from extra dough to pay tribute to someone special in your family.
Viola Shipman’s kitchen hosted many special moments during Wade’s childhood. The bond young Wade shared with his grandmother (right) continued to grow through the years.
Apples were key for many of Viola Shipman’s (in middle) recipes, including apple butter and applesauce.