Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Apples and Thyme in Grandma's Kitchen

The Passionate Palate, a scrumptious and inspiring cooking blog, is co-sponsoring a blogging event called Apples and Thyme, giving us a chance to pay homage to the mothers, grandmothers or others who inspired us in the kitchen. This is my contribution to honor my grandmother, Betty (isn't that such a great grandmotherly name?)

Whenever I conjure up a picture of my grandmother I see her in the kitchen. Always. She spent so much of her day in that one room that my mind always captures an image of her there.
She had a little television in the kitchen so she could watch her “program” while she cooked. We often sat at the table playing cards, Grams popping up and down to tend the stove or check on a pie in the oven. Her game of choice was rummy and she didn’t like to lose. I learned some choice words during these games, surprising my mom with them when I returned home. “Who taught you that word?” she would ask me. “Grandma!” I’d respond, knowing she couldn’t punish me for repeating something my grandmother had said.

Grandma and I drank tea and ate cookies and she frequently gave me little tasks to do, like rolling the little balls of bread dough for the rolls, or sprinkling the colored sugar on top of the cookies the instant they came out of the oven. I was able to get my hands dirty mixing up the meatloaf and learned that onion and garlic smells on your hands are best extinguished by wetting them and rubbing in salt. She made most of her mainstays from heart rather than by the book, so I observed how to add spices without measuring and learned how a “pinch” of salt felt in the fingers by dipping into the wooden salt box that hung next to the stove.

But I also learned some of life’s more important lessons, too. She cooked up a storm every day, preparing meals for her own family but also for many others, as well. She frequently delivered meals on our walks to the grocery store, leaving a casserole and a pie on a doorstep, or sometimes just walking straight in the back door to leave a meal in someone’s kitchen before heading on with her errands. Gratitude for such actions embarrassed her. I learned only a year ago that she prepared meals three times a week for one needy family – for six months! Grams never learned to drive, so she delivered her care packages on foot, logging countless miles around her town delivering goodies and good cheer. She would frequently sit and visit with a shut-in who had no other company or pick up books from the library for them, too. Her actions were so inherent she didn’t even realize how heroic they were, but diving in and helping people by providing home-cooked food is a beautiful thing. That she did it every single day of her life is, to me, the making of a great person.

Grams was no gourmet, but she was a good home cook and could make enough to feed the entire town if need be. She baked bread three times a week for 50 years. Her cute clover-leaf rolls were my favorite bread product for years. Roasted chickens, casseroles and soups, her signature potato salad by the gallon, and loads and loads of sweets. I tell you, Grams should have been a pastry chef. She *loved* to bake. The enormous cookie jar in the kitchen was always brimming with treats for the grandkids as well as herself; her sweet tooth was (and still is!) notorious. Pies and fruit crisps appeared weekly. Cupcakes that she carefully decorated were joyfully presented to us on holidays and birthdays. When she moved to assisted living I commandeered her recipe box; lurking inside I discovered 70% of the recipes were for sweets!

Of all those delectable treats I decided to share the recipe for her granola fudgies. She made them frequently, despite the fact that she didn’t much care for chocolate herself, telling us she prepared them just because she loved us. They are also a cinch. Brew yourself a cup of tea and enjoy them over a fine hand of rummy.

Grandma Betty's Granola Fudgies

1/4. cup cocoa
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar*
1/2 stick butter
1 1/2 cups granola
1/4 cup sliced almonds or chopped nuts
1/4 cup peanut butter

Place the cocoa in a saucepan and gradually add the milk, stirring well. Stir in the sugar and the butter and bring to a boil for one minute, stirring. Remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter, the granola and nuts. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto waxed paper. Refrigerate until firm.

*At home I used Sucanat, which is a whole-cane sugar product, not refining out the essential vitamins and minerals like white sugar does. It's easier on blood sugar level and has a richer taste. You can use regular sugar if you prefer, but if you can find Sucanat or Rapadura you should give them a try. They are a "whole food" rather than a refined, naked "food". Unfortunately, I haven't seen it anywhere in Italy.

Read more about Grams:

Cookies and Lemonade

A Daily Life


Eryn said...

wow our grandmother's sound so alike.

my grandma's name is also Betty and she spends 80% of everyday in the kitchen. whether it be drinking tea, playing conasta (she also doesn't like to lose and says some very unlady-like words), or cooking up a storm for the entire family...usually 13 people at a time almost every night.

so funny too bc she's also famous for her potato salad!!!

thanks for sharing!

The Passionate Palate said...

What an amazing grandmother you had! She inspired you in so many ways, and now thanks to your story, she is inspiring us. (I, too, think of my grandmothers always in the kitchen. Nice memories.) Decadent looking recipe, too! Thanks so much for participating. I look forward to seeing more of Gram's recipes. ;-)

Valerie said...

Eryn, that is really amazing! My grandma has a mirror image somewhere out there...that's funny. At 97 she is still going strong, too! Thanks for telling me about your Gramma Betty.

Barbara said...

Great story....just the sort of grandma everyone wishes they had. i too was lucky enough to have this type of grandmother, as were my kids.

I make a similiar type of no-bake cookie, but instead of granola I use rolled oats. Using crunchy peanut butter is a good way to add extra crunch too...or to cheat when you don't have any nuts on hand!

sognatrice said...

Your grandmother had another kindred spirit in mine...television blaring, card-playing (did anyone else every hear of Rummy-Q with tiles like Scrabble?)....mine has since passed on, but her memories (and recipes) live on :)

My mom makes a similar no-bake cookie too, only with the oats like Barbara said. One of my Christmas favorites :)

Valerie said...

Hi Barbara! Yes, I've seen it with the oats, but my Grams made it with granola...maybe a little extra "oomph", eh? The peanut butter really makes it special!

Sognatrice, that's funny...I thought my Grandma was unique with the cut-throat card games and it turns out others have the same experience! We are very partial to Rummy-Q and even toted one along with us to Italy!

Sue said...

your grandma is a fine cook and a brave women.Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post Valli. I enjoyed reading it. My grandma had a salt box by the stove also. I had hers but now need a new one so I'm shopping around.
Here's to grandmas!What a generous one you had, cooking and delivering to the neighborhood like she did.

african vanielje said...

What a fabulous recipe and A truly amazing woman. You are lucky to have had such a wonderful Grandma, and thank you for participating in Apples and Thyme.

Ann said...

My grandma was a killer card player, too... we used to play "Old Maid" (or Hearts) every day after supper. Loved reading your story!

Cakelaw said...

What lovely memories - thanks for sharing this story.

Proud Italian Cook said...

What a fantastic Gramma! Cooking up a storm for everyone! Love that! We should all take a lesson from her!

rokh said...

your gram certainly have a big heart. cheers to her :))

Valerie said...

Funny to hear how many card-playing grannies there are out there! Thanks to you all for reading about my Grams and sharing your thoughts. She is a very special lady with a heart of gold. Thanks for reading about her. It was a pleasure to participate in the Apples and Thyme event.

Julie said...

Wow, what a lovely, well-written post! My Hun and I laughed out loud about the "new words" you'd learn from your grandma, and her recipe box filled with sweets! Thank you for sharing the recipe, too! I'm a HUGE chocolate and peanut butter fan, and I think I'll try making these for a holiday treat!

Valerie said...

Julie, thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. Bryan is a big chocolate and peanut butter fan, too.

Thanks to all of you for stopping by. Come back to the Pinon Tree anytime!