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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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