My grandmother was a wonderful cook, a veritable wizard in the kitchen. In fact, her entire family were accomplished cooks; her sisters, brother, and nieces to a (wo)man could hold forth in the kitchen.
Family dinners were always delicious. Our appetites were whetted by the good smells that greeted us on the front porch. Savories like roast beef or baked chicken. But the best smell of all was homemade bread. Light, melt-in-your-mouth, sour dough bread. Forget weight watching, and please, pass the butter.
The only problem with Granny’s cooking was that she didn’t teach anyone else how to do what she did. She occasionally gave advice and helpful hints. But she didn’t want anyone in the kitchen watching her work. It made her nervous. She left out ingredients or forgot to do that special something that made the dish really taste good. Lots of secrets were never shared. She did, however, pass along her written recipes.
Once, my mother suggested that I type up some of Granny’s fading, hand-written recipes on the computer. My Grandmother interjected, “On the computer?” As if the machine would somehow taint the dishes. Granny did not have a lot of use for newfangled machines. While she owned an old standing mixer, she never owned a microwave or a blender. Or a food processor. She kneaded her bread by hand.
I soon learned that the family recipes were sacred, and that although she freely experimented and tweaked them, no one else had leave to do so. I am slightly addicted to my great aunt’s banana bread. So when I received the recipe, I headed to the kitchen and began to experiment. I decided it was a little sweet and cut the sugar from 1 cup to about 2/3 cup and left off the sprinkle of sugar on top. When I told my grandmother about these modifications, she huffed, “Well, I thought you used your Aunt Beck’s recipe!” I never mentioned any changes again.
After my grandmother died, my mother and I sorted through her household. I brought home her bread pans, the old cake cover that had covered countless birthday cakes, and her flour scoop. That old red plastic cup had been in her flour canister for as long as I could remember. My mother held it fondly and told me its story. It was the lid from her father’s thermos. Granny had packed his lunch every day, and lunch always included a thermos of black coffee. My grandfather died quite young, leaving my grandmother to raise their eleven-year-old daughter alone. In her jewelry box, she kept his pocket watch and his signet ring. But she never told me about the thermos lid. Maybe she never thought it was important. Or maybe it was her private memento of a loving marriage. Maybe she didn’t want anyone in the kitchen while she cooked so that she was free to remember.
Granny always said, “To everything you make or do, add a touch of love.” That was how she lived, and that was how she cooked. When I learned about the thermos lid I realized that when she baked all those cakes and cookies and loaves of bread, she had literally been scooping her flour with love.