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Posts Tagged ‘cooking with grandmothers’

The mixer poised, ready and willing, sat on the counter’s edge. Sifters and spoons, cake flour and powdered sugar – part and parcel to a plan to make kourambethes early the following Christmas Eve morn.

Keziah and I had been chatting away, as we often do, wondering what we would make for supper and what delectable treats we would bake next. I mentioned that I wanted to bake Greek powdered sugar cookies (kourambethes) and that I could use her help. Well . . . that quickly became an action plan to bake them early the next morning, with Kezzie suggesting that we bring some to share at church on Christmas Eve.

Keziah helped me make peppermint kiss cookies for a ladies event I would be attending when our Up North family visited at Thanksgiving. I was impressed over how precise and efficient she had become,  forming dough into cookies, molding them “just so”. in a way remarkably resembling that of my Yia Yia, so many years ago.

So it was that Kezzie sifted flour ( 4 or 5 times, Yia YIa,  really? ). The mixer whirred and blended the butter and egg yolks (Yia Yia, you can’t use just the yolks!). A taste of pinched off dough determined that we needed more sugar (Yia Yia, you can’t eat cookie dough!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I explained to Keziah that my Yia Yia could not read or write (oh, Yia Yia, everyone can do that!) which was why this recipe did not have precise measurements. I told her that this recipe was written down for me by my mother, who I called Ma (like Little House on the Prairie?) but Auntie Jenny and Kezzie’s Mommy called Yia Yia (could she read and write?). I replied that yes, she could, but that she did not finish 8th grade, nor did she read or write or speak Greek.

My sweet granddaughter, perched upon a stool, pinched and rolled with an uncanny ease for one so young. She lined the dough on cookie sheets as we talked and baked and tasted our results. Keziah did the work her Yia Yia couldn’t quite handle this year. We talked, she asked questions and we puzzled out family history. She reminded me to check the cookies in the oven and anticipated “dusting” the cookies with powdered sugar when it was time.

When we were done, 100 cookies were made, tins were filled, and Ezra helped us taste test – just to make sure they were good.

This recipe for kourambethes came to me like taking the long way home.

It begins for me with a young woman, Penelope, for whom I am named. She brought this recipe and others in her mind as she traveled down a mountain, more than a century ago, a donkey employed to carry their possessions. She came down the mountain and boarded one ship, then another and sailed across the ocean to New York, then traveled on to Massachusetts and finally Chicago. Her daughter-in-law, my Ma, wrote down what she saw and in time gave it to me. The measurements in saucers-full and baking until done.

This year, 2020, five generations strong, I will convert my cursive writing to print and provide more accurate measurements*, confident in the knowledge that a new generation is now becoming the keeper of family recipes, especially those that have traveled so very far.

  • My one true test of knowing when the dough is sweet enough to bake is in tasting the dough. Yia Yia would always pinch off a little piece of dough for my sister and a piece for me before she would start forming cookies to bake. This pinch is how I know they are sweet enough. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

 

 

 

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. . . a Lenten Dump Cake.

That all American Girl, Kit, came to visit this week. She brought with her my “cook fantastic”,  Keziah. Actually, Keziah came and brought her doll, Kit with, but, you already figured that out.

Kez and Kit have matching aprons, crafted by a woman who turns old shirts and blouses into aprons which are as adorable as they are practical. Kezzie packed away both her apron and Kit’s. She knows her Yia Yia well and anticipated a few baking opportunities, one of which presented itself on the first morning here.

Actually, I was anxiously awaiting their arrival with the ingredients already purchased.

Earlier in the week, I saw a video with my cousin Pam demonstrating how to make a Lenten Dump Cake, which looked quite delicious. It was also something I could easily make with my granddaughter, Keziah. With most of the ingredients already in the house, the only thing I needed was a can of cherries and a can of pineapple tidbits. I managed to forget the pineapple on three separate grocery runs. Do you ever do that?

So it was, bright and early on the first morning we were together since Thanksgiving that Kezzie, Kit and Yia Yia began their baking marathon, spreading canned cherries into a large pan, followed by pineapple, dry cake mix, nuts, etc. with several liberal pinches of giggles and grins. It is such tasty fun cooking with Kezzie and it was particularly nice to have Kit in the kitchen to help.

Do you have a favorite dump cake you like to make?

Pam, if you read this, thank you for the inspiration and please know the this was a fun, and quite delicious,  cake to make my granddaughter.

 

 

 

 

 

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Women Write about Food, Life, and the Enduring Bond between Grandmothers and Granddaughters

Edited by Ellen Perry Berkeley

When I first heard of At Grandmother’s Table at Nan’s blog, Letters From a Hill Farm, I logged it onto my list of books to read and added it to my Amazon “wishlist”, where it languished for a time before presenting itself, wrapped in pretty paper last week for my birthday. Now, my Tom’s no fool, no way, no how. A book about grandmothers and food with recipes is sure to fill him up as well. A gift that keeps on giving, in so many ways. I’ve had my nose buried in it since I first unwrapped it and its treasures within.

Half cookbook, have memoirs, this book is a little gem. My only problem will be where to put it; in with the cookbooks or essays and biographies.

Each chapter contains a story by a woman writer about her grandmother and the bonds shared in the kitchen. Some of the women have known their grandmother without ever meeting her. Others were practically raised by their Nana or Oma. Many were immigrants, some descendants of slaves, some the bearing of royalty. Their stories are told chronologically by the grandmothers’ births, starting in 1844 and ending in 1919. The stories are as long as a cup of tea and as short as the distance to your own cupboard.

In “Another Way to Touch”, author Mary Hard Bort says of her grandmother that

“She tested oven temperatures with her hand, she measured with chipped and no-handled teacups, bent and tarnished spoons, and she hummed as she cooked and baked and tested and stirred. The results were delectable – and impossible to duplicate, even using her own recipes. My sister and I have concluded that we can’t rival the rich cream and milk from the farm’s Jersey cows, the eggs fresh from the chickens – or Grandma’s touch.”

Bort’s words hit home with me as I recall dishes and pastries of my grandmother, Yia Yia, that I’ve made that are good, of that I will agree, but, just not as good as hers. My Greek chestnut stuffing just a few weeks ago is a prime example. I think it was missing Yia Yia’s touch.

At Grandmother’s Table is such a treasure trove of stories. It brought to mind my Yia Yia, who never really taught me to cook, but, from whom I learned to cook by watching her, being near her, observing how much salt went into the palm of her small hand or the measurement of lemon juice in a small glass. How the house would smell, its aromas and scents, on a cold winter’s day, as I walked the long driveway to the back, anticipating all the tastes that cooked within. I can still see her tiny hands rolling dough into small balls for butter cookies, kourambiethes. I can see her roasting chestnuts at the stove or pounding olives, one by one, and putting them in the brine.

Oh, what pleasures and remembrances surfaced as I read At Grandmother’s Table.

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