Lady Cooks the Blues

Well please pardon my absence Dear Folks,

So far, this fall has been a different sort of season. Most of our growing is done in leaps and bounds during the heady, floral-laden breezes of Spring. The winds of change are blowing, however, and bringing with them a bountiful harvest of knowledge, fond memories, and unprecedented growth.

I must go back a bit though. So bear with me if you will….

A little over a month ago, on a Sunday evening much like any other, I was visiting my Mom. As I was leaving, she got excited. (By the way, that is not the normal sequence of events.)

 “Ooohh, wait a minute! I just remembered something! Hold on!” She rushed away from the threshold and brought back a commonplace, double-tied plastic bag holding a mysterious mishmash of something wrapped in very old paper. I never know what she might be handing me in one of those bags. I looked a question at her. She didn’t wait for the words. She’d talked with my aunts, and they’d said it was okay to let me have my Grannie’s recipe collection. After an ordinarily chatty visit with Mom, I must admit I was floored.
It was the last thing I was expecting. There were no words.

My Gran died when I was 11. She called a few of us firstborns her “Baby Joy”. I was neither of my parent’s first child, but the first they had together. For both of them, it was their second marriage. It lasted over 30 years. My name, Hadassah, is actually Hebrew. It really means Joy or Myrtle Tree. There is a whole story behind it, but suffice it to say I was perfectly fine with my then-current “title” as Grannie’s Baby Joy. This is the woman that called us on the phone every day to teach my younger sister and I how to use it. It was the highlight of my daily activities from at least 2 years old on. This was extremely important stuff! A girl should know her phone etiquette. As far as I was concerned, only a real VIP got telephone calls from Gran! I must have been a special little somebody!

We used to go over Grannie’s for dinner every Sunday evening. It was an event. We’d still be dressed in our Sunday clothes many times, and she had a way with her cooking. For one thing, my Mom had hypertension, and we never had table salt in our food. Everything was cooked from scratch, with as little to no preservatives as possible. Also, my Dad was a naturalist. This meant no artificial colors, flavors, or imitation/substitute foods. No Kool-Aid, no pre-mixes, no… well you get the picture. Eating at Grannie’s was heaven! She used salt, seasonings and packets galore! She made pretty cakes on gorgeous cake plates straight out of the pictures from 1950s Betty Crocker Cookbooks. They were almost always those delectable layer cakes: coconut, chocolate, pineapple, or yellow cake with chocolate icing. They were very properly appointed with a beautiful multi-prismed cake cover, on a cake stand she kept in the middle of her kitchen (or dining room table if she was having ‘company’). She made us Kool-Aid in our favorite ‘flavors’—with plenty of sugar to go home on. šŸ˜‰

My Grannie was the kind of woman that never had a purse without gloves and shoes to match. In fact, later – after she passed – I will never forget us finding a few of her purses among her beautiful hatboxes and such. They still had her fragrance, (she made her own rosewater from her roses in the garden), and they still had gloves inside. I was only 11, but the gloves were too small. It seemed impossible that someone could do so much with hands so petite.

Yet, with family help, she reared four kids through two turbulent marriages. This lean, birdlike woman with ample shoulders was a private-duty cook to some families in the area. Lest one forget, Grannie would hastily inform anyone that she was NOT the maid. That was fine if that was your choice, but it was not hers. She was a skilled cook! She was also one of the most proud, glamorous, and elegant women I have ever met. Not particularly pious, but very principled, Grannie guided all of us as best she could, with so many different grandchildren from different families.

That said, it was with a full heart and tear-stained face that I received this innocuous-looking package from my Mom. My steps were heavy as I turned and waved a requisite second goodbye, before Mom faded from view. (Well what do you want?! We are Southern!:)

I got to the car and sat… and sighed deeply. It weighed more than I thought it would. I looked over at the seat next to me where it looked back at me. So many memories and emotions tore through me at a slow and steady rhythm that I needed some “Southern” comfort. I thought of Nina Simone’s line…’in a melancholy way… it might as well be Spring.’ It hadn’t occurred to me as a cold fact in over 20 years, but my Grannie died in an April. I needed searing jazz, hot food, and good conversation… I headed straight on Main Street. My next post in the coming days will be on Beyu Caffe…

P.S. More on family/cuisine at a later time….

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