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Culinary Memories of Your Grandparents


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I lost my grandmother after 95 full-packed years of her life. I wonder what other food memories people have of their grandparents.

I never knew my paternal grandfather; he died before I was born. Grandma was single after his passing, until the day she herself died.

She was not a good cook. What I do remember was that she always ate a “balanced” meal – always a protein, a starch and a vegetable. She lived one block off of Colorado Blvd. in California (the Rose Parade route), so I spent every New Years Eve as a child at her apartment. We’d wake up early on January 1st, walk to the parade route, and “park our cabooses” on the curb to get a fee-free view of the parade.

As she grew older, she became increasingly careful about money – almost to the embarrassing level. She would raid the table at a restaurant after any meal (she always brought re-cycled plastic bags) and take any re-eatable food stuff that was on the table. That included any leftovers on anyone else’s plate, packages of salt, sugar, jelly, butter – nothing was too dear for her.

I loved her beyond reason.

Any other family remembrances?

"Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last.”

Francois Minot

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My sympathies, Julia!

My main culinary memory of my mother's mother was her stuffed cabbage, which was remarkably like Jaymes' Russian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, except that in addition to raisins, she also included prunes and possibly some other dried fruit I can't remember offhand (apricots?), and she used lemon juice instead of vinegar. I thought the ginger snaps were her personal secret trick, but I now know that wasn't the case. My mother still has Sylvia's recipe, and we've made it, but somehow, it just doesn't taste the same without a grandmother's love in it (and that's despite the fact that I believe my mother is in general a much better cook than her mother was).

I called my father's mother Baba, as she came from an area of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that is now about 200 miles inside of Ukraine (Baba is Ukranian for "Grandmother"). When I knew her, she was a diabetic, so I remember her eating dietetic cookies (e.g. Stella d'Oro) and such. But I also remember that she made compote that I liked very much. She also always seemed to have a stew in a pot on her stove. Baba was a tough, resourceful forest Jew with a green thumb, and she was very proud of the beautiful large plants she had induced to flourish all around her apartment. I don't think she was using any of them for food, though.

I'm editing this post to add another paragraph, because I think it belongs. I had a third grandmother, a fictive one, Ethel Carr. I know I mentioned her in some similar thread (I think it was about people other than parents who influenced our taste or something). Mrs. Carr was a black Southerner who lived in Harlem back in the 70s and used to come once a week or so to do some cleaning in the apartment. She also often babysat me (she was a good block-player :smile:). As I remember, she never arrived emptyhanded, but always or at least often came with delicious Southern foods. I especially remember the sweets: The apple cobbler, the sweet potato pie, the shortbread, the peach cobbler, the pumpkin pie, the apple pie, the peach pie, the bread pudding, etc. But I also seem to remember collard greens, for example, and candied yams. When Mrs. Carr was too old to work for my parents, my mother had a fellowship that paid for child care among other things, and she used to send a check every month to Mrs. Carr for her upkeep. So Mrs. Carr really was in no way just an employee, but a beloved fictive relative. It's through her that I acquired a taste for soul food and an association of such foods with love and happy times.

Edited by Pan (log)

Michael aka "Pan"


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Thank you, eJulia for starting this thread.

I was blessed to have all of my grandparents until I turned 18. They were all immigrants, proud people.

My fraternal grandparents were Chinese - "yen-yen" and "yeah-yeah" I learned at a very early age that the best way to my "yen's" heart was to join her in the kitchen. I have memories of being about 5-6 and standing on a chair in front of the sink, washing rice in a pot. I used to top-and-tail beans, scoop out seeds from melons, peel garlic, I was in heaven. Yen used to babble at me in "Chinglish", eventually finding the words that I understood. As I grew older I used to go food shopping with her, describing to her what the American foods were. I learned more than cooking at her side. Through the language barrier we connected over steaming pots and poured all our love into our food.

My maternal granparents were Puerto Rican and Filipino. As a Merchant Marine, and the chef cook aboard ships, Granpa travelled extensively. We used to delight in the exotic dishes he bought back from his trips. I had my first taste of oysters with him, my first baking experience, my first passions for food were because of him. My Gramma hated to cook. She prefered to be cooked for. When she did cook we were treated to Puerto Rican soul food. Pasteles, cucchifritos, mofongo, arroz con gandules, pernil.

My taste buds have memorized all the food they introduced me to. I can re-create sauces and flavors soley from my palate. I can only hope to honor them by keeping the food alive for my family.

Peter: You're a spy

Harry: I'm not a spy, I'm a shepherd

Peter: Ah! You're a shepherd's pie!

- The Goons

live well, laugh often, love much

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BOTH of my grandmothers knew how to make chicken n dumplings taste out of this world! Unfortunately, they took that to the grave. I tried to get my father's mother's recipe (there's a reason for that), and the recipe fit on 1 3"x5" card. For the dumplings, she said, "Make your dumplings now." :blink:


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I say my grandma wasn't a good cook, but thats not true. She could cook a mean mac and cheese, a killer tuna casserole, a fabulous meatloaf, and a great pumpkin pie.

Grandmas are a treasure. Don't waste a minute of your time with yours.

"Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last.”

Francois Minot

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Great topic. I love this kind of food history...

My maternal grandparents were of Irish and Italian stock. On this side of the family, the Northern Italian influence dominated. While my grandmother didn't like to cook, my grandfather's mother *loved* to. Her risotto recipe, passed down to her by her mother from Cuggione, is the first page in my cookbook. Family legend recounts her using every pot and utensil available to make Sunday lunches. I never knew her, but I do feel license to use every pot when I cook. :biggrin: My grandfather died when I was young, but I associate him with the proverbial glass jar of jellybeans on their coffeetable.

My paternal grandparents were New York Irish-American, legendary party hosts. Even when they retired to the west, the giant lemonade pitchers of martinis in the fridge never struck me as odd, even as a kid... My grandmother loved all things Irish, and reveled in serving corned beef and cabbage whenever the entire extended family gathered. Here, cooking and storytelling are closely linked, since there was never just one person in the kitchen, but at least twelve, all talking at the same time.

I'm lucky to still have my paternal grandfather around. At 96, his recipe for stuffed mushrooms is as good as it was twenty years ago. He loves great food, but his lesson to the younger generation is probably that the food is great insofar as it creates an opportunity to linger over excellent conversation and family history. :smile:

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At my Granddad's farm in So. Ark/No. LA we grew up having fresh blackberry jams, Blackeyed Peas, Pole beans, Corn, Tomatoes, Turnip Greens, and polk greens for salad, and figs and amazing peaches. If not fresh, the exess was frozen or canned and stored. Squirrel or duck dumplings, fried brim or crappie, and skillets of cornbread made with (local made bacon) fat.

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There are only a few actual dishes or recipes I remember from my Grandma, but all her food was delicious. She cooked Country food, and I still do, because of her. Perhaps she is watching over me, somewhere?

One thing she made that I have and love and is awfully simple--her version of hoecakes. You take self-rising cornmeal, mix it with enough milk so it's a not too thick not too thin batter, fry them like pancakes, and eat. Oh, and you nibble the little crispy crust edges off first. I think of her every single time I either make them, or whoo, write about them.

She was 92 when she died (about 15 yrs ago) and she was hard core and kick ass right 'til the end. And funny, to boot. I want to be like her....except for the part where she had 11 kids... :biggrin:

I'm sorry you lost your Grandma, eJulia. There really is no age someone you love can live to that doesn't hurt.


PS: Almost forgot! I know how to wring a chicken's neck because of her! And to not play in the pig pen with the mean ol' sows.

"I'm not looking at the panties, I'm looking at the vegetables!" --RJZ
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When I was a kid, we used to go to my father's parents' house for dinner on Sunday. My job was to shell the fresh peas...I quickly learned how sweet and delicious they are when raw! My Dad's parents were Austrian...foods I remember regularly showing up at dinner were cauliflower which was steamed or boiled, then baked with buttered bread crumbs. And my grandfather loved cucumber salad (that sweet-n-sour one with the onions). My Mom learned how to cook potato pancakes from my Dad's Mother, using shredded potatoes to make super crispy cakes. My maternal grandmother was a notoriously bad cook, but she's still cookin' (down in FL) in her 80's. She made a mean stuffed cabbage roll, tho'...and homemade cheese blintzes. The cleanup after a batch of those...whew...usually the top wasn't on the blender all the way and we found pale white goo for days!

"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast" - Oscar Wilde

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One of my grandmothers was unsafe at any speed in the kitchen. She made stuffed potatoes by baking potatoes, scooping out the insides and throwing them away, and filling them with mashed potatoes from a box. Many times as a kid I tried to persuade her not to get toast out of the toaster by sticking a fork in while it was still plugged in and switched on.

The other was a fantastic cook. She had lots of help in her house, including a cook, but she did the meal planning and kind of employed the cook as a sous-chef. She pretty much cooked all day long; we have her diaries and she wrote obsessively about shopping and cooking. No idea how she got interested; no one in her family knew their way around a kitchen, I don't think. Her food was eclectic but almost all very rich and heavy. There was eggplant stuffed with sausage, roast game birds, homemade jams, jellies and grape juice, and the most incredible bread, rolls and cookies. I think she used lard to shorten some of those cookies. It was kind of sad because her husband was a drunk and usually just passed out at the table; I don't think he noticed what she cooked or even that she cooked, possibly. She didn't entertain very much either, because of said husband. At least she had a lot of children and grandchildren to appreciate her food.

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We lived with my maternal grandmother till I was 12, but we had separate kitchens. I remember her making fish chowder in a black iron skillet, but not much more. Oh, date bread, from the orange boxes of Dromedary dates, a recipe I got a couple of years ago from a buddy whose grandmother had written it down. Love that stuff with cream cheese.

My father's mother was much better at baking and candy making than she was at cooking. Typical Sunday dinner would be an eye round she cooked to leather, Wonder Bread dinner rolls, relish trays with celery sticks and olives, mashed potatoes, the usual yada yada, but dessert might be a lovely lemon meringue pie. She made little sugar cookies in animal shapes, I have all the cookie cutters for them, including a very vintage Mickey Mouse, she made fudge, potato candy, and these filled cookies she was very proud of, but we always looked for the wastebasket after one bite. They had ground raisins in them. I make them for my fil and put mincemeat in them. He loves them. One year for Christmas I made my father a basket with all that stuff in it.

Biggest memory would be waking up and hearing the tea kettle whistle. Her refrigerator always smelled like apples and strawberry soda. She served us Maple Leaf hot dogs, which might have been a very local thing, but they had an incredible snap to them. She had rhubarb in the yard, a strawberry barrel, a little summer house, an apple tree, beautiful gardens, a Dairy Queen on the corner, it was almost heaven to visit for the weekend. But she was a nervous nellie. I swear if she had ever hit on the cooking sherry she'd have been off to the races.

Here's her kitchen....

On vacation.....

I've been going through the mountain of pictures my father left, and putting together a slide show. It's been quite the trip down memory lane.

Difference between her and my mother's mother...she said she went down in her cellar every day to make sure everything was ok, my maternal grandmother chuckled till her more than ample bosom bounced, and said I haven't been in my cellar for 20 years. That was a great house to live in, but 20 years after my mother sold it, a guy killed his wife in it, then took his two kids to a pond in a nearby town, drugged them, slit their wrists, and drowned them.

Edited by McDuff (log)
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Your grandfather looks just like mine ! Mine was from Czechoslovakia.

He has a murky background. My mother knows some of the details. He claimed to have Choctaw Indian blood, and in pictures when he was a young man, you might almost believe it. He was a decorated veteran of action in the Philipines and spent his working career as a shoe machinery repairman in Marlborough MA, which had a lot of shoe factories.

The rest of us come from a long line of Moynihans, Sweeneys, Hoeys and Killeens. County Clare and County Mayo are undoubted crawling with very distant relatives.

Edited by McDuff (log)
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I lost my grandmother after 95 full-packed years of her life.  I wonder what other food memories people have of their grandparents.

Condolences on the loss of your grandmother, eJulia.

In her memory, some of my own grandparental food memories:

All four of my grandparents were born and raised in one of those pieces of Eastern Europe that Russia and Poland spent a few centuries or so arguing over. Of my two grandmothers, one proudly upheld the legend of the terrific Jewish cook, and the other blithely and rather cluelessly trampled it into the ground :laugh: My paternal grandmother seemed to believe that seasonings were unhealthy or something. Every time we'd visit, she'd either serve nearly flavorless boiled chicken, or extremely dry hamburgers, with a watery salad of iceberg lettuce and minute flecks of carrot. She'd painstakingly collect all the windfall apples from her yard, then peel and trim all the bad parts off so that, when done, she'd have a pile of trimmings at least twice the volume of "good" apple. Then she'd either make applesauce--no sugar, which was good, but no cinnamon or other seasonings either, which was kinda bland. Or she'd make bread pudding--apparently out of apples and old bread only, so that the apples were practically the only moisture in there, and the poor thing would always get scorched on the bottom. Supposedly she and her husband ran a restaurant at some point in their youth--I can only imagine it didn't stay in business all that long!

My maternal grandmother also worked in restaurants--she'd been a cook at one or another of the big Jewish resorts in the Catskills at some point--and she could cook like a dream. We didn't see her very often, but when she came to stay with us while my mom was in the hospital giving birth to my kid sister, boy did she ever cook up a storm! I remember watching in fascination as she made kreplach from scratch, and as she cooked blintz wrappers so thin and perfect it was to weep. This is the same grandmother who, when my mother was a kid, would keep a crock of fermenting sauerkraut on the fire escape of their Lower East side tenement flat in the wintertime, and a crock of fermenting yogurt wrapped in a baby blanket in the closet next to the steam heat riser. She'd also do the classic keeping a live carp in the bathtub for a week to flush out all the mud in its system prior to making it into gefilte fish. And she'd drag my mom along to the live poultry market so that mom-as-little-girl could go around the backs of the cages and poke the birds hiding back there, so they'd come out where bubbe could see them. All these and many other stories of my grandmother were told to me by my mother throughout my childhood--I liked these tales even better than Dr. Seuss, and would often ask my mother to retell my favorites.

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Of the five grandparents I remember, I have very vivid food-related memories associated with each:

My great-grandmother was well into her eighties by the time I remember her, but still going strong. I lived just across the field, and spent a lot of time with Granny, weeding the garden, gathering her eggs in the mornings, feeding the chickens, picking up peaches (the best job,) and cutting okra (the worst!) There were real rewards for those jobs, though: anisette cookies that would rival anything served at the finest restaurant, banana puddings made with meringue, and so forth. Mostly, Granny wasn't a great cook, but I never went hungry at her house, and I certainly learned to appreciate really fine fresh eggs, fruits, veggies, and meats from her home. I inherited Granny's enamel-top kitchen table, which I still use as she did: as a cool, smooth surface to roll cookies, dumplings, pastries, etc.

My father's parents were rural Southern farmers of English and Irish extraction (mostly,) and I used to spend a week or two with them each summer. In the mornings and evenings, I was in Grandpa's company: We'd rise early, feed hogs while the coffee perked, and come in to eat breakfast. In the evenings, Grandpa and I would go to the garden to choose a nice watermelon or cantaloupe for an after-supper treat, and then grab our fishing poles to try to catch a mess of bream for supper. During the day, while Grandpa puttered around on the tractor or in his workshop, Grandma gave me free reign in her kitchen. Even at age four or five, if I told Grandma that I wanted to make a pie or a cake, she'd stand by to provide guidance, and she'd man the oven, but she let me do whatever I pleased.

My mother's parents owned and operated a meat-and-three restaurant, so there are certainly some great food memories there: Helping Granddaddy make Brunswick stew (the only cooking job he did at the restaurant,) or escaping into the office with Granddaddy, helping with paperwork, change-rolling, etc. while "sneaking" a Nestle Crunch bar. And each year, Granddaddy and I shared a July birthday dinner, for which I always requested Granddaddy's specialty: homemade peach ice cream. Grandmother, who is still living (and who is just across the road as I type,) is a fine Southern cook -- locally famous for the best Red Velvet cake on the planet, and the only pumpkin pie recipe that I actually enjoy (light, lemony, and with meringue on top.) And sure, the desserts are good, but in my book, nothing will ever top Grandmother's way with a pot of greens and a skillet-ful of cornbread. :wub:

Thanks for starting this topic, eJulia! You've revived some great memories!

"Enchant, stay beautiful and graceful, but do this, eat well. Bring the same consideration to the preparation of your food as you devote to your appearance. Let your dinner be a poem, like your dress."

Charles Pierre Monselet, Letters to Emily

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I'm going to give a (mostly unnecessary) caution about sticking to food related stories. You guys are doing great, but I have to at least say it.

My grandparents as a group were a study in contrasts. My maternal grandmother was an avid cook, of the most stereotypical "Jewish grandmother" kind, and every social occasion was draped in chicken schmaltz and full bellies.

My maternal grandfather couldn't even boil water, but it wasn't an issue in that household. Furthermore, at least half of his life he had dietary restrictions (high blood pressure, divoticulosis, and later on diabetes), so there was a constant tension in that household between the boiled chicken on his plate and whatever grandma was making for everyone else.

Sugar free candies battled for space with the sugared ones left out for the grandkids.

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the extended family, we had the non-stereotypical Jewish grandmother. My paternal grandmother theoretically could cook, but my understanding from my father is that it was strictly an exercise in fueling bodies. By the time of my childhood, with all of her own children long out of the house, the pretense was left far behind. What they ate when I wasn't around I have no idea, but the introduction of the grandkids into the household meant lots of restaurant visits, and I could swear my grandmother had to have singly-handedly driven the concept of supermarkets carrying pre-packaged prepared foods, because I can easily recall having it in her household in the late 1970s.

My paternal grandfather was incredibly robust and healthy for the majority of his life, and puzzlingly in a household with no cooks really relished his food. It always struck me as somewhat ironic that my maternal grandfather lived in a household where good food was there for the taking, but due to his health he couldn't really take it, whereas my paternal grandfather had to find culinary joy in lesser things. He could rhapsodize about a particularly nice apple. Sit him in front of a nice bowl of oatmeal and he'd find some joy.

There were other quirks as well.

Grandma Shirley, my mother's mother, always had a bowl of grapes at the ready. ALWAYS. I have to tell you that for many years of my early adulthood I steered clear of grapes simply because of over-consumption during my childhood.

Sam, her husband--he of the enforced boiled chicken meals--listened to talk radio or watched sports CONSTANTLY when he ate, short of a large family party where he couldn't get away with it. I have to conclude that maybe the distraction helped the boiled chicken go down a bit better. Also, if no outsiders were present, that belt of his would always be open, and while he rarely expelled gas publicly, you could always kind of hear him fighting it. In private he'd have no compunctions about gas expulsion, but luckily it was always from the mouth.

Grandma Estelle, my father's mother, frequently made a point of how she didn't dislike ANY kind of food. It was a point of pride for the woman who couldn't really cook that she'd eat pretty much anything (still is, actually, she's the only of my grandparents who is still alive). Since I was a bit of a picky eater growing up, she was often puzzled by that aspect of me, but accommodated as well as she was able.

Arthur, her husband, was as I've already mentioned, a man who easily expressed his enjoyment of a meal. He had some other peculiarities. For one thing, he mixed soda. This was mostly in the days before self-serve fast food soda fountains existed, so what he used to do was actually ASK restaurant staff for "half coke and half orange", or better yet he'd drink part of his own soda and then "borrow" some of yours to mix into his own. He also made his own applesauce. When the tree outside made enough apples he'd use that, but usually he just bought a bunch at market. He'd also order or make "half coffee/half water"--he never had it at full stregnth. Finally, he LOVED malted milk powder. He'd use ANY excuse to make ice cream shakes for the grandkids and then he'd dump a ton of malted powder in and consume at least half the conconction himself.

Despite being very different types of people, both sets of grandparents lived in Queens, New York, for most of my childhood. One strange little thing which bound them together was Hoffman's soda. You see, in Queens during those years (basically, the 1970s) people didn't just bop on over the supermarket for a twelve pack of Diet Pepsi cans and some two liter bottles of Mountain Dew. When you were in a restaurant, you drank Dr. Brown's soda, or yes, Coke and the other popular brands. Otherwise? You had your local soda distributor deliver cases of Hoffman's soda. Hoffman's could be ordered in cases of 16 ounce glass bottles, but nobody I knew bothered. It was cheaper to get a case of 32 ounce glass bottles instead. You had a standard order you could call up and tweak, but there was plenty of room to be flexible since they'd fill the case with any mix of flavors you wanted. The empty glass bottles were gathered up and returned with the empty case a few weeks later, and were washed and reused. You'd never know who had your bottles before you, but those were less complicated days and really it wasn't an issue.

Of course that was a little universe who's bubble was easily burst, as 8-track tapes went out of use, and my paternal grandparents sold their house in the Whitestone district of Queens and moved (gasp!) to New Jersey. Life was never quite the same. My maternal grandparents stayed in their little apartment in Bayside (which was only a few miles away from Whitestone but quite different), but somewhere along the way they stopped buying Hoffman's. Maybe it was the increasing dominance of the Coke and Pepsi brands everywhere else in the universe, maybe Hoffman's stopped delivery service--I really can't recall. Within a few years, as everywhere else, Diet soda dominated anyway, and Hoffman's couldn't have survived that anyway.

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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mizducky, last summer I met a young Jewish woman. When I asked what her family served for Sabbath meals, she told me boiled chicken. That was it every week. Her Dad had been raised very poor in England and didn't want anything else.

As for my family, we are the usual American mutts so that it's hard to be sure where everyone started. At least four generations back were the most recent arrivals.

My paternal grandmother was a fabulous cook. When she and my grandfather were first married they traveled the Nevada boomtowns. He was a millwright for the stamp mills and she would have a boarding house where she fed the unmarried men. Bodie was the roughest but they left there when my dad was on the way.

She made lovely roast chickens, the fluffiest biscuits, and creamy custards. The table was always properly set and she always had some kind of desert even if it was only a bowl of sugared peaches or berries. My grandfather sat at the head of the table and carved and served whatever meat was prepared. He had lost 1/2 his left thumb in an accident and I can still see him holding the steel in his left hand gripped with the stub of thumb while he honed the carving knife.

Grandma loved to make fancy dishes and belonged to a card club which she entertained once a year. She loved making exquisite things to serve the other ladies. Sometimes I was expected to entertain with a recitation of some sort. (Don't ask.)

She enjoyed learning new ethnic foods. The Italian neighbor taught her to make "Basilico Macaroni", Pasta e Pesto and Rice Pie, a rice frittata.

My maternal grandmother was nowhere near as skillful. Her food was OK but really bland and not at all imaginative.

My mom was not a good cook at all but she likes to think so and tells people how great she was. She did make a good Chile Verde but I can't think of much else that was good.

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My Missouri grandma was a good country cook--I remember thick sliced bacon and thin sliced ham and summer sausage from the smoke house, gallon mason jars of milk in the fridge with thick caps of cream, cream used to make ice cream out under the maples. Ice cream that you HAD TO EAT, because the little freezer in the fridge was just about big enough for a couple of ice cube trays, so no way to save ice cream for tomorrow. Watch out for those ice cream headaches, always worse from the home made stuff.

I remember running across the road to the corn field for big roasting ears, and the watermelon man coming by in his truck--watermelons a dollar each, and cantaloupes 8 for a dollar.

Peaches from the farm stand in a bushel basket. That farm stand is still open, and I stop every time I go by. (Mmmm--just thought about peaches with that nice cream poured over, and some sugar sprinkled on top.)

Gathering eggs and calling in the cows in the early morning for milking. Helping in garden--fresh beans and tomatoes and okra.

My grandma bet my cousins that I *would* like okra--she paid me twenty six cents behind their backs to rave over it. (Good money in those days, but I really did like it--deep fried, of course, with a crunchy corn meal crust.)

The big meal of the day was dinner, served at dinner time--noon. Seems like it was always beef of some sort, usually pot roasted, but I remember fish fries and frog legs and squirrel, and once, fried turtle. Taters. Corn and beans and tomatoes, cucumbers with sweet and sour dressing. And pie, of course.

I do remember watching her kill chickens once, and hanging them on the line to bleed out. I remember my mom showing me the unformed eggs inside the hen.

Breakfast was pretty substantial too--a platter of fried eggs, bacon or ham, toast. Glasses of that thick milk. I really only have one memory of Grandpa--he was eating a bowl of Hay and Straw. (His name for All Bran with one of those big Shredded Wheat biscuits broken on top.)

Supper was leftovers or sandwiches, eaten after the evening milking, and just before we went out on the porch to watch the sun go done, and to sit in the dark, talking.

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We rarely had dinner at my mom's parents home but ate dinner every Sunday at the home of my dad's folks.

Mom's parents: I remember medium rare roast beef (which we almost never had at home as it was too expensive), always peas, always mashed potatoes and in the summer - my grandma's justifiably famous potato salad (which my mom can duplicate and I, alas, cannot).

But more than anything I remember the glass jar of both powdered and plain donuts in the kitchen, the jar of sour balls, long neck glass bottles of 7-Up and Tang (my granddad was a big fan of the space program and drank Tang instead of OJ for that specific reason). These last items, although snacks more than real food, were very exciting to me because we never had such luxuries in my house when I was young.

Dad's parents: This one is easy - same dinner every Sunday and I can still see every dish, every food item and the face of every relative in my mind's eye (and all the dogs as we all brought our family dogs with us to Sunday dinner - it was required). Those meals ended in the early 70's when my grandpa was deceased and grandma could no longer cook at age 95.

the menu:

  • - Saltines, margarine and sharp NY cheddar cheese
    - baked beans
    - store brand soft drinks and milk
    - jello with fruit cocktail mixed into it
    - boiled hot dogs served with white bread
    - Nance's sharp brown mustard or French's yellow mustard
    - yellow sheet cake with chocolate frosting

The margarine had to be called Blue Bonnet (which it was) and the jello had to be referred to as gelatin or Royal gelatin (my uncle was a food salesman for Standard Brands - we only used brands he sold and couldn't call them by the "other" names).

And the dogs were always served the same food that we ate and served on the same china that the people used. And they always had dessert just like we did.

Needless to say - it was not an exciting menu and I dreaded that meal as I grew older. But my dad's folks were people of very limited means and much pride. This was their most extravagant meal of the week and all accepted and shared it with love. I only wish I'd been wise enough at that age to appreciate it more than I did.

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My condolences for your loss, eJulia. My paternal grandmother is 94 and still with us. Thanks for starting this thread.

Both of my grandmothers were excellent cooks, but the meals we ate at their homes were completely different from one another. Neither set of grandparents was first generation American, nor were their parents, so I must include their locale with the description of their heritage/cooking styles. My maternal grandparents were Texans (probably of English and Irish descent, with a tiny bit of Native American thrown in), and my paternal grandparents were from south Louisiana and of Cajun descent (French speaking, but sort of citified Cajuns, and throw in a Spanish surname). Southern country cooking on one side and home style Cajun cooking on the other.

Breakfast with my maternal grandmother always included her homemade biscuits. You could choose from bacon and sausage patties, and your eggs made to order. Her fridge ALWAYS contained a pitcher of sweet tea. Sunday dinners were fried chicken and biscuits, cream gravy, mashed potatoes, and sweet peas, while a weekday meal might be a simple one of pinto beans (seasoned with ham), skillet cornbread, and greens. I have (and still use) the iron skillet she used for small batches of cornbread.

One distinct memory is of my grandfather sitting alone (except for the audience of me), eating a late night snack of chicken pot pie and Ritz crackers. Not homemade pot pie, either, but Swanson’s. He loved this combo. I guess it was a guilty pleasure of his.

My maternal grandmother, despite being a wonderful cook, offered cereal for breakfast, as well as a bit of café au lait. Sometimes she’d add a little coffee to your cereal and milk, which meant your café au lait was in the bowl! Sounds kind of weird, but it was good. My early food memories include her Boston Cream Pie, fudge, fig preserves, corn macque choux (which I never order in local restaurants, because if they’d ever tasted my grandmother’s version, they’d be ashamed to serve theirs), pork rib jambalaya, and any of her rice’n gravy dishes.

My mother and father married very young, and the meals of my earlier childhood reflected her mother’s cooking, but as time went on, she became the compleat Cajun cook, and reflected my paternal grandmother’s cooking.

Edited by patti (log)

Dear Food: I hate myself for loving you.

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I lost my grandmother after 95 full-packed years of her life.  I wonder what other food memories people have of their grandparents.

Condolences on the loss of your grandmother, eJulia.

In her memory, some of my own grandparental food memories:

My condolences as well... 95 years old! That's a life to celebrate.

Likewise, in her memory, I recall food and drink memories of my grandparents.

The only culinary memory of my maternal grandparents is that my grandfather worked as a bartender at Howard Johnson's for many years, and his handwriting was so pretty that he wrote the daily specials on the blackboard. When we went to visit while he was on the job, he made me Shirley Temples.

Most notable for me were my paternal grandparents from Italy. Their house smelled like fresh basil all the time -- every moment. My grandfather took care of the garden in their backyard in Chester, PA, when Chester was a good town. My grandmother cooked the awesome big Sunday dinners of homemade pasta and tomato sauce; meatballs, sausages, chicken, and pork; salad, bread, and desserts.

Life is short; eat the cheese course first.

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On my dad's side, my grandfather always made the best red plum jam. We would go out as a family and pick the plums, then come back and I'd watch him cook the jam. He died 20 or so years ago, but my grandmother still lives in the same house. I have so many memories from that kitchen. Her greatest dish was her banana pudding - she would make the vanilla pudding in a double boiler and it was the best ever. I really need to get that recipe soon. I don't think she's made it in a while. When she and my grandfather would cook for us, we were required to have a slice of white bread with every meal.

My mom's mom makes the best macaroni and cheese - a recipe I got a long time ago and use often.

This post is a good reminder for those of us who can still get recipes to hurry up and do it! I'm going to email Mimi about the banana pudding now.

"God give us good taste, why bother?" Captain Jim's Sushi Chef
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My condolences, too, Julia. Similar to you, I didn't know my father's parents. It might have been interesting to, for they arrived in New York as Jewish refugees from Amsterdam - and my father (though I knew him but briefly) did seem to be rather interested in and mildly obsessed with food. :biggrin:

My grandmother also lived in an apartment, but in a medium sized town in Maine - and also had strange bits of food tucked away here and there that she seemed to want to keep for some time that would come where there just might not be any food. How a ten-year-old jar of B&M Baked Beans would save life as we know it (in case of any terrible plight) I do not know - but she seemed to believe it would. And besides, it was *made* in Maine, and she had even seen the factory, so it had a certain sense of assurance to it.

I don't remember her eating anything, really, ever, but for tuna-fish sandwiches on white bread that had been spread with butter. The tuna had nothing in it but mayonnaisse. . .none of this fancy pickle relish and why bother with celery? :wink:

The strongest memory I have of her though, is one night while sleeping on a cot near her bed during the summer when I was seven while visiting my relatives in Maine.

Somehow I fell off the cot in my sleep, and all of a sudden she sat directly up in bed and hollered out "Time to eat!" really loud, then lay back down and went back to sleep.

I giggled myself back to sleep.

She didn't remember a single thing the next morning.

"Time to eat!"

(Still makes me laugh. . . :smile: )

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I'm really enjoying reading everyone's memories, and all the wonderful richness of the food and relationships with their grandparents!

I wish I could say the same, because while all my grandparents lived to ripe old ages, they were uninspired cooks at best. I didn't know my father's parents well because they lived 8 hours away, but I have two vivid food memories from them. First was the jar of weird white stuff in the basement - when I finally asked about it, I found out it was homemade sauerkraut. I never got to taste any of it, probably because I called it weird.

The other was the inexplicably pink hardboiled eggs - my first encounter with pickled eggs. Which I hated on first taste - I loved hard boiled eggs, and this seemed like such a waste.

My mother's parents, on the other hand, were a much bigger factor in my life. Sadly, Grandma was a stereotypical midwestern cook most of the time, as she'd grown up on a farm near Omaha. Food was uninspired but always available. She was also the perpetrator of the red jello salad with the canned fruit cocktail in it and a dollop of Hellman's mayonnaise on top, and the lime jello salad with the pineapple and cottage cheese. Which we always had to "try" to be nice to Grandma.

But Grandma did some pretty good baking. When we were younger, Gram would make us "doll cakes" for our birthday - where the cake is baked in a bowl, then turned upside down, a cylinder hollowed out in the middle for an 11.5" fashion doll (whose legs were carefully wrapped in plastic wrap), then the whole thing would be decorated with piped frosting designs to make a dress, doll torso included.

I know I've posted this here before in some other thread, but I also learned from Gram the difference between difficult and time consuming. She was making some miniature eclairs for some church function or another, and grumbled the whole time about how difficult they were. I watched the whole process, and it struck me that nothing was taking a lot of concentration or deftness, it was just taking time. It was a valuable lesson - and the eclairs were pretty good, too.


Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted...he lived happily ever after. -- Willy Wonka

eGullet foodblog

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My mom's mom made pretty damned good biscuits back in the day. The only thing I can remember about my dad's mom -- whose husband was a Gloucester fisherman -- is her cooking haddock for two hours in the oven. In case you think that this is a homey version of baked fish, please try it yourself. :huh:

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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