Recently, my Gram passed away at 92 years old. She was remarkable in many ways, but her cooking is one of the things that stood out to anyone who knew her. It wasn’t just what she made, which was always delicious, but it was also how she made it.
My Gram was very much the matriarch of our family, and for years she hosted most of the holiday meals in her half of a double block home. She would get up at 3 AM to start cooking everything from scratch.
She was Polish, so many of her dishes came from that influence, although she could also whip out an amazing lasagna or cheesecake. Whatever was on the menu, she would work for days preparing and then serve us all in her dining room while she ate in the kitchen.
And she just didn’t make food for the meal. She made sure every family present had ample leftovers to take home. We may have sampled her homemade bread with dinner, but we each got our own loaf to go…often two (one with raisins, one without). I’m not sure if it was just her love of cooking, her history as a child of the Depression era, or her many years as a single mom that made this abundance necessary. No matter the reason, food was and is a huge part of our family gatherings.
Over the last decade, my Gram’s ability to cook and host was greatly diminished, but we all remember her signature meals and have tried our hands at recreating them. I’ve had some successes and some failures (I’ll get you right someday, paczki!). And I’ve learned that when making her recipes, you must account for quantity, or you’ll end up with enough for a small army. I once was making her bread recipe when I came to the part that called for 8 eggs and realized I was underprepared.
Perhaps the best people to carry the torch are my brother and his girlfriend. They are excellent cooks in their own right, and they bring the care and attention to nostalgic details necessary to keep the family’s traditional meals alive.
When we got word that my Gram passed, my brother and his girlfriend got to work. They cooked for days, preparing all of my Gram’s best recipes, and then drove it all for two hours to my parents’ house where we gathered to remember Gram. I can’t believe everything they made – pans of pierogies and haluski, multiple loaves of bread, several poppy seed rolls and nut rolls, pagach, and a giant crock pot full of golumpki (still warm!). Not only did it free up my parents to focus on other things rather than feeding a brood in their home, it allowed us all to sit back, eat well, and remember our Gram. Plus my brother and his girlfriend added their own unique touches. Bacon in the pierogies? How have we never done this before?! The food truly filled us body and soul.
Perhaps my brother and his girlfriend’s culinary efforts stemmed from their own way of dealing with my Gram’s passing. After all, busy hands keep the mind busy too. But I also know them both and how they choose to celebrate the details in life. They really worked hard to honor my Gram, and in doing so, they helped to turn those sad days of saying goodbye into a celebration of sorts. It’s amazing how food can do that.
So many sensory components can take you back to a time and place. When I ate their food, it reminded me of my childhood. It reminded me of my extended family. It reminded me of being in my Gram’s home. It reminded me of laughter and singing. It reminded me of my roots. And it reminded me that there are ways to keep someone alive in your kitchen as well as in your heart.
So thank you to my big brother and his ladylove for the gift of ultimate comfort food. It truly made a difference for me, and I know Gram would have enjoyed tasting the next generation’s take on her best recipes.
Does your family prepare traditional meals? How does your family pass on and share family recipes?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Tara B. of Washington (State), USA.
Photo credit to the author.