My two grandmothers’ cooking styles and ways of loving were as different as their personalities and upbringings, they were night and day and from different worlds. Yet they became part of one family after my parents married. Such is the power of love and food.
My maternal grandmother kept Kosher her whole life and cooked things such as Kosher hot dogs with baked beans, onion rolls with bologna and mustard sandwiches, chicken soup with matzoh balls, bagels and cream cheese, and her signature dessert, strudel. I could rely on having orange soda when I visited her. One of her brother’s sons owned a Jewish delicatessen in Massachusetts. Her parents emigrated from Sweden and Russia and settled near Boston. The candlesticks her family used for Shabbat dinner are still being used by my mother on Friday nights. I didn’t visit my maternal grandmother often by myself, there were many grandchildren around and about, and we didn’t have a lot of one-on-one time alone with her. On holidays she was more apt to be among the adults. She loved her family and had a clear vision of what good food was. She thoroughly enjoyed going to the grocery store (a common trait in our family), walking the aisles to discover new things, considering possibilities, but most of the time purchasing the tried and true. My maternal grandmother wasn’t one to experiment with food, she knew who she was and that was that. You could rely on her for consistency, we knew what she thought or felt without having to ask. When my maternal grandmother was a child, she was required to make bacon in her home economics class at school. As someone who did not eat pork, she was morally offended by this injustice and remembered that experience all of her life. Just barely over 5 feet tall, she was a fierce and loving force in the family.
My paternal grandmother was not religious in a formal way, but she lived the Christian values of love and generosity. Her table was filled to the brim with food such as ham, roast beef, green beans, biscuits and gravy and mashed potatoes with lots of butter. Comfort zone to the max. She always had Coca-Cola in the refrigerator, M+Ms (plain), Spanish peanuts, and Wrigley’s spearmint gum. It was heaven to visit her! She allowed us treats that our parents limited (or prohibited completely) in our everyday non-grandmother day lives. Visits with my paternal grandmother included trips to the toy store or clothing store and although her budget surely could not have afforded it, she purchased something for her thrilled grandchildren. She treasured the roses in her flower garden, the tomatoes she grew were beautiful, and she loved animals. Of Scottish descent and originally from South Dakota, she lived in many different parts of the USA even before I was born, including Chicago, New York City, and Wyoming. She eventually settled in Brockton, a city outside Boston, and that is where I spent most of my time with her. Her style of cooking was to please. And did she ever.
My heritage of cooking and love came from both sides of my family, both grandmothers. It is a legacy I strive to continue. I have to admit that sometimes I feel unsteady in following their footsteps, but I know they would both encourage me without a moment’s hesitation.
Pixie – July 2018