"We follow in the steps of our ancestry, and that cannot be broken." ~Midnight Oil
“Both of our grandmother's were terrific cooks with polar opposite styles. Two prominent women in our gene pool could not be more different, and both have left indelible impressions upon us on how we cook and live our lives.
Our dad's mother, Grandma Elsie was the queen of her kitchen domain (and probably everything else for that matter) easily turning out country delights: fried chicken, biscuits, pies, ice creams, you name it. On one notable occasion, our cousin Larry ate so much that he actually cried from being too full.
Grandma Elsie worked her magic in the tiniest of kitchens in a house "built" during the depression by placing two railroad boxcars together, adding a roof and veneering the outside to resemble a typical residential house in Yucaipa, California. Grandma could also produce fantastic meals on a large scale. She directed the volunteer staff at her church's kitchen where she and her friends turned out amazing congregational dinners and meals for fundraising purposes.
Grandma Elsie was not only a wonder in the kitchen, but she also sewed beautifully and had a green thumb. She made almost all of her own clothes, outfitted her best friend, Harriet, and sewed extensively for our cousins with a few special things for us, too. She dressed plainly and I do not remember her ever applying makeup.
As children, we sisters were all rather intimidated by Grandma Elsie. I remember finding an old black and white photo of a couple obviously enjoying each other’s company - arms around each other, wide smiles, faces radiating happiness. I immediately recognized the man as my Grandpa. The woman, who I was not entirely sure was my Grandma, wore a drop-waist flapper dress and one heel kicked away as if she had just leapt in joy. Mom confirmed that the effervescent woman in the aging photo was indeed Grandma. By her demeanor as an elderly woman, I could not fathom that Grandma once upon a time had been that happy... ever!
A family friend once commented on how Grandma loved to dance when she was young. I had to clarify, my Grandmother? Yes, YOUR Grandmother. After all these years, I still can’t quite believe Grandma danced anywhere, at any age. I recall her regularly watching The 700 Club and Lawrence Welk, attending church and not allowing appetizers before dinner. Mom would keep crackers in the car, so if we were dying from hunger we could sneak out of the house for a snack. Grandma would have flipped her wig if she had discovered us. When we finally sat down to dinner, we gorged ourselves to the point of being stuffed, and then we would try to beat each other to the couch so we could lie down and unbutton our pants for a little relief. The looming threat of further discomfort never stopped us from eating dessert.
Grandma’s vegetable garden was lovely, lined with a “wall” of sweet peas, green beans climbed poles, sweet corn, juicy tomatoes, varieties of squash (among other vegetables), and plants like aloe to relieve burns and skin problems. The neighbors had a peach orchard and in season, Grandma loved to make peach ice cream. Grandma traded vegetables for eggs with another neighbor. They all helped take care of each other during the hardest of times.”
When I sent the post to my mom, dad and sisters to check the facts, I found out that I had some wrong. Mom wrote, “As a child I was not that fond of my mother’s cooking. Most of her dishes you never had at our house. I was glad to leave them behind. I had no weight problems in those days. Everything Grandma Elsie made was DELICIOUS.”
Mom continued with the corrections: “Grandma catered all of the Woman’s Club Luncheons for years in Yucaipa. Her reputation was noted to Nana when I first started seeing your dad. Actually Grandma Elsie and Grandpa Charlie were not active in church until he was retired and able to attend with her. I imagine she did cook for church affairs, but her fame was the Woman's Club of Yucaipa.”
Dad added some of his own memories: “You were born after we left Yucaipa, so you wouldn't remember many of the frequent summer dinners in the yard at Mom's house in the evening. I'm sure Juliette and Linda remember them well. Tomatoes and corn, beans, hamburgers, tacos, cucumbers, etc. and of course the homemade ice cream. Makes me salivate just thinking about it. Don't know whether you know this or not, but my mom loved breaded eggplant and she grew those as well.
At the time I was growing up, I didn't know any different so I took what my mom did for granted. Looking back on it from a totally different perspective, I honestly don't know how she did it. Tiny kitchen, one refrigerator, and no freezer (although they did add a large freezer when I was probably 12 or so)."
And this from my sister, Juliette: “I would like to say that I never felt intimidated by Elsie. Perhaps it is because this apple did not fall far from that particular tree. That is increasingly clear as time goes by. In my youth - when I was in trouble (and I was in trouble a lot of the time), I comforted myself by imagining I was adopted. No one understood me, and why would they - there was surely a mix up at Kaiser Steel Hospital, and I had been bundled home with the wrong family.
The thought of future generations eating out of that bowl gives me hope. So I treat is as a treasured family heirloom, a relic, only to be employed in the serving of heritage comfort foods: Three bean salad, macaroni salad, and the most popular of all... potato salad. I also use it to rest the pulled beater out of the lemon ice cream, and watch the kids scoop the remnants off of it and into their mouths with sheer delight just like I did with my sisters and cousins long ago.
Elsie taught me many things. When I was 11 or 12 she taught me to sew. She taught without tears or judgment. I remember making my own dresses in high school, and Linda and I sewing up my maternity clothes when I was pregnant with Paul (my eldest), thanks to Elsie's expert instruction. She taught me to serve dinner at least an hour late. When you are ravenous, anything coming out of the kitchen that is good or better will taste like the best thing you ever ate!
I learned that there is not much better in life than a bowl of frosty lemon ice cream, eaten in a microscopic box-car of a kitchen, with your Grandmother in a cotton house dress with her remaining wisps of silver hair blowing in the breeze of the huge wall fan in the bedroom on a hot summer afternoon.
She taught me the art of the TV tray. Many evenings spent dining with our black and gold trays in front of the T.V. with Lawrence Welk, Hee Haw, or the evening news. The food was great, the 7-up or Root Beer floats even better, but the TV selection sucked! The sheer novelty of watching TV was the saving grace for me. I still get the horrid shiver down my spine when I happen across re-runs of those shows while desperately seeking entertainment on random evenings with my remote in hand! It also makes me crave a Root Beer float!
She taught me how to set a good table. Joyful and full of food. Her dishes didn't match (at least that is my recollection), brightly colored tablecloths, lanterns glowing in the tree branches, and a longggggg table set with the promise of food. Lots of food! The hum of the ice cream maker and the laughter of the family while we waited anxiously for the food to be served is embedded in my DNA. Well, that is all I have to say about that. For now.”
Grandma's Delicious Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes with Blueberries
Remberance from Linda, "One of my favorite memories of Grandma Elsie is of her cooking blueberry pancakes in an electric skillet set on a TV tray in the kitchen while we all sat around the little formica table. I remember that she beat the egg whites separately for her batter, which made the pancakes lighter. The pancakes for our family recipe are made entirely with whole wheat flour, but you would never know because they are light and fluffy."
The pancakes are especially delicious slathered with real butter, drizzled with maple syrup and served with Oven Fried Bacon on the side.
3 large eggs, separated
3 Tbsps sugar
3 cups buttermilk
6 Tbsps oil
1 Tbsp vanilla
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
2 tsps baking soda
1 package frozen blueberries
Blend egg yolks and then add liquid ingredients. Add dry ingredients. Beat egg whites until stiff. Fold into batter. Thin with additional buttermilk, if necessary. Serves 6.