Yeah! It’s been a year….I’ve been busy – sort of. Okay…”slack” then. I’ll try to do better.
This weekend I’ll be hosting – with my HoneyBunny – my second Grandma Ina Sunday Lunch. We’ll sit down to the dishes that made getting up on Sunday morning a worthy endeavor. It's a fitting tribute because I’m not a cemetery person and this makes me feel close to her. I’ve thought about a lunch for my Little Grandma but I can’t make the biscuits or the “whipped cream” she made happen from evaporated milk and lemon juice so why try.
Big Grandma (Grandma Ina was the name our kids - and their kids – gave her) was a working woman long before Helen Reddy and Gloria Steinem made it “empowering” so cooking was just another thing she had to do. Like a lot of smart women of that time, she made use of the modern marvel of packaged convenience foods. Then after my grandfather passed on and the big plot of dirt behind her house (aka the garden) was slowly taken over by grass, the frozen bounty of so many summers gave way to canned vegetables and various boxes of dried stuff claiming to “taste just like” the stuff they were claiming to be and my grandma’s kitchen forever changed.
Like most Grandmas of her generation, she had her specialties and it’s no surprise to me that her specialties – and there is no tongue in my cheek – were primarily convenience foods. Instant potatoes, mac n “cheese” from a blue box, brown and serve rolls – or better - the canned variety pinched raw and dropped into canned chicken broth for the best dumplings you’ve ever tasted. Her Sunday roast seemed equal parts beef and garlic salt (excuse me while I mop the drool) and the Shake n Bake® barbeque chicken just didn’t taste the same at anybody else’s house. I think one of my favorites though was the canned yellow squash that she put in the pan with the drippings from fatback (if you have to ask you really don’t want to know) and chopped onions. By the time they were done it looked nothing like squash but it was really tasty. I know there was a time when she cooked “real” food but I don’t remember a lot of those times and now when the family speaks of her food it’s usually the canned and boxed versions that we’re talking about. I don’t mean to imply that she fed us nothing but Hamburger Helper but she rocked that food group!
Grandma’s Sunday menus were dictated by what was on sale the day before at Winn-Dixie and my Sunday menu will reflect hers. I do, however, refuse to open a can of green peas or pour powdered flakes into boiling water and call them potatoes – that memory is better tasted with my heart. I don’t think it will really matter so much…my family loves to eat and I don’t think that they’re such purist that they’ll turn it down. And what I’ve come to know is that what we all really remember tasting is not so much the food – tasty as it was - but what it was flavored with - the time spent sitting around her kitchen or on the front porch talking and “fellowshipping” and sometimes I’m sure there were arguments but no one remembers those. My cousins have more memories of those times than I do – most of my growing-up Sundays were spent at my Little Grandma’s house until she passed away. I kinda envy them that time but then I had those biscuits so I guess maybe it all evens out.
Grandma got up early and Sunday and to do more than cook. She was creating the bonds that to this day keep our family bound to each other. Was she aware? Or was it just what you do…love your family and create the times that help them love each other whether they want to or not. We weren’t total sponges though – we did contribute and since desserts were not my Grandma’s thing - not that I can remember anyway - I’m pretty sure we brought those in. My Aunt Linda’s banana pudding, my mom’s pies or cakes and my cousin Erin’s dump cake – a curious mixture of canned pie filling and boxed cake mix (apples never fall far from the tree)….I’m sure there were others but that’s what I remember right now. My Aunt Patricia makes a mean potato salad with nothing from a box and there was usually some variety of casserole (with canned fried onions on top) that made it onto the table.