Food carries so many wonderful memories for me from my childhood. Food memories satisfy the taste buds, and the heart and the soul. These foods bring a flood of warm fuzzy happy memories to us as we smell, see, eat, and make them. We talk about the wonderful memories as we eat the food. The memories emanate from the food and take on a life of their own. Food memories are strong because they touch the senses of taste, touch, smell, and the sense of love and happy familiarity in our hearts.
I have dozens of happy memories as a child eating foods prepared for me by my grandma. Memories of sleepovers at her apartment with special foods that when I eat those foods today the food memories flood in; I’m a happy kid again sitting at my grandma’s table. I am instantly there again at her table anxiously awaiting her to bring us plates of crackers and government issued cheese. Somehow that cheese was the best cheese I had ever tasted. I can still imagine the sharp cheese flavor and see the white wrapper package because my grandma handed it to me with a smile. She would sit down with my sister and I and we would enjoy the snack together.
My grandma would make homemade cinnamon rolls out of frozen bread dough and my sister and I would plague her with questions of when they would be done. We were impatient cinnamon roll eaters. She would say soon and we’d go back to using all her knickknacks and her tv trays to play office with. Nothing was off limits for us to touch, we could play with any of it. They are just things, she would say. Of course she was right, things are just things, but memories are better.
She would put sweet white frosting on the cinnamon rolls or brown sticky caramel topping. My sister and I loved the white frosted ones the best. She would serve us the cinnamon rolls on plates she had brought from Iowa when she moved to come live near us. Her dark wood table with the metal claw feet began to lean to one side one day, but that didn’t stop us from giggling and eating at her table. We didn’t care that is was crooked, we just wanted to sit at it and eat with our round cheeked smiling grandma.
She was such a good cook, no scratch that, she was an amazing cook. Her life had brought her surviving through the Depression which left her with the belief that nothing should be wasted, even food slightly past its expiration date. Life brought her surviving through quitting school at the level of eighth grade to care for her siblings while her parents worked as farmers in the South Dakota fields. She became the mother figure to her siblings while her German born parents worked in the fields daily and she mastered the ability to cook for the whole family. She learned how to make these amazing foods that are now some of my most cherished food memories.
Her heart grew so big as that young girl caring for her siblings, and her heart never stopped growing bigger the rest of her life. She was generous, giving, and unselfish. She was a Christian who went to church weekly and wore a cross on her neck. It wasn’t just for show, she lived and breathed kindness and faith filled generosity. It had brought her through trials as a single working mom raising three kids on her own due to a husband with paranoid schizophrenia. Her life had brought her through all that to here at this table to be my grandma. I couldn’t have been luckier.
She made us icees which were basically just koolaid ice cubes chopped up by a knife with koolaid poured over the top. But, wow, they were the best treat to us even as simple as they were. We would fall in her apartment door and drop our overnight bags and Cabbage Patch dolls on the floor as she would hand us our icees. Our eyes would light up as she handed us our icees filled mugs, our hands raised ready to take that first cool sweet spoonful. She would make us chicken and dumplings that sat on slices of potato. She would make us cream cheese cookies and strawberry rhubarb sauce and carrot cake. I cherish these precious food memories now.
Food memories can come from bad smells too like when my grandma and my mom would can beets in our kitchen. My sister and I hated beets and the moment we walked in the door after school we knew grandma was there canning beets with our mom. But we also knew grandma had probably brought us homemade chocolate chip cookies or walnut banana bread so we dismissed the beet smell. We were happy to see grandma and her special food.
At Christmas-time she would make Russian tea balls which I loved. I’ve tried so hard to find a similar recipe but nothing measures up to her recipe.
Grandmas write down your recipes for your grandkids so they too can make their favorites someday.
As part of Christmas baking, Grandma would help my mom make the intricately folded Finnish prune tarts and braided Pulla Bread to help satisfy my dad’s food memories of his own mom in the kitchen when he was a boy. My dad’s mom had passed away, so my mom and grandma helped him relive his food memories each Christmas by making those special foods. Now I make them for my dad and my own family to create those food memories for my own kids.
My grandma was such a jolly person and her whole body shook when she’d laugh. She laughed a lot. That’s what I remember about her because she always had a smile. She laughed a lot, she cooked a lot, and she lives in my memory as the best grandma a girl could have asked for.