48: My Grandmother’s Kitchen

48: My Grandmother’s Kitchen

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

My Grandmother’s Kitchen

Grandmas never run out of hugs or cookies.

~Author Unknown

Each time I bake, fond memories of my maternal grandmother float around my kitchen much like the aroma of her freshly baked bread. Vivid images of my grandmother baking cakes, cookies, and Irish shortbread appear when I close my eyes. And then I smile. Spending time with my grandmother in her kitchen was always an adventure and no matter how badly I failed at my own attempts to emulate her perfectly baked goods, she would always find the positive.

As a young girl, I was given the essential role of the helper—the “getter,” as my grandmother called it. She would say, “I need you to get the flour from the cupboard,” or “Can you get me a whisk?” I was happy to comply; I was an excellent getter and my reward was usually to lick the spoon, which was covered in cake batter or creamy fudge.

As the years passed, I learned about the art of baking from my grandmother. I studied her recipes, each one handwritten and stored in an old wooden recipe box. Her measurements for various ingredients always baffled me. Words like “smidgen, pinch, dash, dollop, and tad” were commonly used in her directions.

My cookies never looked as good as hers—hers were perfectly shaped, thick, and evenly sprinkled; mine were misshapen, flat, and sometimes burned. But instead of criticizing me, she made a game of identifying the not-so-perfect cookies, and if they did not pass our inspection, we would be forced to eat them ourselves. We both had an insatiable sweet tooth. Oh, how my belly would ache by the end of the day from laughing and eating so many sweets. It was no surprise I was a chubby girl throughout my adolescence.

Presentation was a valuable lesson. When it came to bake sales, my grandmother’s baked goods were always the first to disappear. Her logic was simple: “If it doesn’t look good, it doesn’t taste good.” It didn’t matter how wonderful someone’s baked goods tasted if they were not festively decorated and packaged well. Spreading chocolate frosting on a cupcake with a butter knife was not up to snuff in my grandmother’s opinion, and usually those were the cupcakes still sitting on the table at the PTA bake sale at the end of the day. Her sugar cookies always had colorful sprinkles on them; peanut butter cookies always had a cross-hatched fork imprint; chocolate chip cookies always had extra chips placed strategically on the top before baking.

We would often visit the local church bake sales and she would point out the items she predicted would sell first—and she was usually right. Cookies in a decorative plastic bag with a ribbon were popular; conversely, cookies on a white paper plate covered with cellophane were the leftovers. Customers might never know how good your baked goods tasted if you didn’t entice them to purchase them—the presentation alone could sell the item.

My grandmother’s love for baking never faltered over the years, but as human nature would have it, she became forgetful in her old age. One time, she admitted sprinkling poultry seasoning atop the coffee cake instead of cinnamon. Upon realizing her mistake, she remade the coffee cake—and then accidentally used the poultry seasoning again. Occasionally, she would call me at home, frantic that she had not remembered to mix the eggs into the cookie dough before she added the flour. I asked her if she had checked the wastebasket for any broken eggshells. “Oh, I guess I did remember the eggs,” she would say, and we would laugh about it.

On one occasion, she was asked to bring a half-sheet cake for her senior citizen luncheon and she had forgotten to bake the cake the night before. Not having the ingredients on hand to make one from scratch that morning, she borrowed a boxed cake mix from a neighbor.

She called me as the cake was cooling on a rack and told me she had seen a coupon in the dry cake mix, but she could not remember whether or not she had removed the coupon before mixing the batter. With only one hour before the luncheon, she was forced to frost the cake without knowing if the coupon was baked inside. I suggested not bringing the cake to her luncheon, but she said, “Let me give you some good advice, honey. Never let your friends down when it comes to dessert—they’re counting on you.” And so, she began to formulate a plan in her head as we spoke.

As I mentioned, my grandmother had a way of making a negative into a positive and this was her plan: If the coupon had not been baked into the cake, no one would be the wiser; if the coupon had indeed been baked inside the cake and someone bit into it, she would announce that he or she had won a prize! As it turned out, there had been no prizewinner that day, but remembering my grandmother’s back-up plan still makes me chuckle.

Although she has passed on, I still display her box of handwritten recipes in my own kitchen and keep them close to my heart, as baking will always be a hobby and a passion for me. She not only taught me about the art of baking, but how to look for the positive in any situation, even if it takes a little improvising.

This year would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday. I miss her terribly, but her teachings and the fond memories we shared in my grandmother’s kitchen will live on.

~Suzan Teall Headley

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