“My mother made potatoes that were boiled and then fried. They were so crisp!” He describes the food, and then shares the memory of his mom whistling hymns while she bustled about the kitchen.
My daughter tells me, “Mom, I made Flat Pancakes for supper.” I can hear her smile through the email. We’re both thinking the same thing: my mom/her grandma, brightening our kitchen during her visits each January; flour-dusted hands, wispy hair, and a flowery apron.
Food memories journey across oceans and generations. In 1996, I toured the Molotchna Colonies, in the Ukraine, where our Mennonite, Gaede family had lived until the late 1880s. We were served Rollkuake with watermelon. The fried fritters tasted as flat, and familiar, as those I’d eaten during my childhood in Kansas and Alaska. In 2014, I still enjoy them, with watermelon juice squishing out my mouth, and flashbacks to my young daughter in her apron, wanting to flip the sizzling dough strips.
How does one separate food from memories? It’s as slippery as separating egg yolks and whites. And why try? Not unscrambling these elements, adds to the flavor.
I have three books that make me salivate – and reminisce.
• My Grandma Agnes Gaede’s cookbook, from Reedley, California. Grandma collected recipes in a brown spiral Golden West theme book with narrow rule, purchased for 49 cents. Pasted and taped inside are recipes cut from magazines or handwritten. I find icebox cookies, sponge cakes, coffeecakes, chiffon pies, meatloaves, and casseroles. Nothing is gluten-free, salt-free, fat-free, lactose-free, or sugar-free.
• Memories & Meals, which I edited, is the history of Deer Creek Christian Camp near Bailey, Colorado. The history is mixed generously with recipes. There’s Hot Chicken Salad served at Ladies’ Retreats, Sloppy Joes at Kids’ Camps, and Norwegian Coconut Cookies for Ski Camps. When Deer Creek recipes are served at gatherings of previous camp attenders, laughter and reminiscing burst out between mouthfuls.
• The Three Boys. This book was drafted during a family Pheasant Festival. For decades, Penner men and boys (now young women) have flocked to the Penner farms in Western Kansas for November pheasant hunting. Within the Colorado Penner group, no one has wanted to prepare the birds. Since I grew up with wild meat in Alaska, all fingers have pointed at me.
During one such event, I recorded stories repeated by my late husband and his two brothers about their childhood in Kansas and Colorado. We didn’t want to lose the comical recollections of the three boys in a stock tank looking at cow’s faces under the water, rolling their over-sized Dachshund down the stairs – to see if he’d land on his feet, and bicycle crashes with trombones. The final chapter featured the last meal my children had with their Grandpa Penner – when he ordered pie – first.
As dessert to the main course of stories, at the end, I added The Three Boy’s mother’s recipes for German Chocolate Cake, New Year’s Fritters, Cream Cheese Brownies, and so on. Some of her handwritten recipe cards were copied directly.
What can you do with food memories and recipes? You can use them for amusing holiday conversations or for collecting into your own memory-and-meals family or friends book.
Questions to ask around your holiday table. (Include all the generations for a spicier blend.)
– What is your favorite friends/family homemade food? Why?
– Who makes it? Only grandma? A group of the women? The men at the grill? _______who always experiments?
– Where did the recipe come from?
– Have ingredients changed over the years? Or due to availability? Or because of preference?
– What’s the story around the recipe? Where were you when you first tasted it? Who else was there? What was the occasion?
– When is it typically made? Holidays? Camp-outs? Ski trips? When _____comes to visit?
More suggestions for gathering memories.
The Three Boys http://www.prescriptionforadventure.com/threeboys.html
(This was first printed in “The Country Register” (Kansas), Oct/Nov. 2014)