Lessons from my Grandmother

~By Katie Blais

So many memories of my grandmother involve some sort of food and eating.  Picnics at the lake on Sundays in the summer with her green canteen full of lemonade. Coming up from the beach at noon, covered in salt and sun screen and having her make me an egg salad sandwich … did you know if you put a little bit of sugar in it, it makes all the difference? Sitting in her screen porch in the summer eating saltines and peanut butter and sipping on iced tea. Scalloped potatoes on Easter, although one year the dish she used for it broke … it was not pretty.  I always knew when I went to her house there would be temptee in the fridge and cheese itz in the cabinet, and I don’t know why she bought kosher cream cheese since we are far from Jewish.

I loved staying home from school and going to my grandmother’s. I would sift through her wooden recipe box my grandfather made her and we would bake chocolate chip cookies, homemade brownies, upside down and feather light cakes, or blueberry muffins  with her brightly colored Pyrex bowls that I coveted for years. Those bowls now sit on my counter and I swear they make all my food taste better.  My grandmother was very systematic about her baking. You always greased the sheets with Crisco, always smoothed the top of the baking powder with a knife before adding it to the flour, and you never let any egg shells get in! I was less exact about the whole process, having a heavy hand with the vanilla extract and getting flour all over one of my grandmother’s aprons I had on.  I can still hear her say “slow down Katie girl!”

Three years ago, my grandmother’s health was failing and she was in and out of the hospital throughout the entire year, and was there again for what would be the last time right before Christmas. Now, Christmas is a big deal in our family. It is a day of gorging, and mass proportions of baked beans, mac and cheese, prime rib, stuffed shells, and anything filled with lots of butter, sugar, and calories is on our table. But one of my favorite dishes is my grandmother’s Jellied Salad, a recipe straight from the 50’s with orange sherbet and jell-o whipped cream, and mandarin oranges.  I watched my grandmother make it for years, in her very systematic, “now you add the boiling water, stir for 90 seconds, add this” way. So many steps though, I was always afraid to do it myself.

I went to visit my grandmother in the hospital Christmas Eve day when it became apparent she would not be joining us for Christmas dinner the next day and she told me I had to make the salad. She coached me through by writing out the directions in her perfect handwriting on paper for me to take home, but I was nervous that it wouldn’t come out right. I used the clear glass bowl she always used, and could hear her in my head telling me to slow down and not to rush as I was assembling it. The end result was edible but I couldn’t seem to get the separation of the jell-o and whipped cream. “You’ll get it someday Katie Girl,” she told me when I went to visit her the next day.

The following Christmas my grandmother wasn’t around to ask questions, but I knew I had to make the jellied salad. So I did, bawling my eyes out, but as I always do when I am in the kitchen making one of her recipes or using her bowls to create something new, hearing her voice telling me to “slow down katie girl” … so I do and brush the flour off my hands on her apron.

***

Jellied Salad Recipe … Coming Soon

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