Thursday, November 8, 2007

Apples & Thyme - A Celebration of Grandmothers, Mothers & Daughters

Inge of Vanielje's Kitchen and Jeni of The Passionate Palate came up with a wonderful idea for a blogging event. It’s called Apples & Thyme – and celebrates the time we spent with our grandmothers (and mothers) in the kitchen. I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of weeks.


Bubbie, Auntie Rita (my mother's baby sister) & my mother



I have so many wonderful food images of my mother’s mother and, frankly my own mother, who passed away much too young, that I didn't know where to start or which wonderful memory to choose. So before sharing a story and a recipe, a little background....

I always felt that I would have lots of time to write down their recipes. So, like my daughters do now, I just called my mother up and scribbled the recipe of the moment on a scrap of paper which I promptly lost. It didn’t seem important to hold on to them since I could just call her anytime I wanted to.

In fact, when my daughters went off to university, they would call a million times with no “Hello”, no “Mummy, I miss you so much”, just “Cooking question” or “what’s Grandma Hazel’s Banana Bread recipe?” It still happens occasionally. So at some point I decided to write a cookbook for them with old family favorite recipes (most with my own twist).

Each recipe made me think of a special moment from my childhood (and then from that of my own kitchen cooking with the girls), and I decided to write the stories down as well. The concept broadened, of course and the results …

Every Kitchen Tells Its Stories, Recipes to Warm the Heart...became a place where everyone could fondly remember their own kitchen stories.

But back to this wonderful blogging event... I can’t think of my childhood without seeing my grandmother in her apron, standing in the tiny kitchen of her tiny one bedroom apartment in Montreal and all of her children (she had seven) and their spouses and their children (we are 18) showing up for holiday dinners. Every family showed up with folding bridge tables and chairs and perhaps someone or other brought a dish, but mostly my grandmother did the cooking in that small space without any of the modern gadgets I couldn't possibly live without (imagine grating enough potatoes by hand to make Potato Latkes for that many people!).

I can still smell all the delicious aromas of each of my favorite dishes, even the ones I can’t remember all of the ingredients for and so can’t reproduce them. I can see all the burners covered with pots bubbling and steaming, the oven light on and something wonderful baking or roasting and all the counters overflowing with more dishes ready for the table. I can hear the cacophony of children playing, kitchen noises and adults talking louder and louder to be heard over the wonderful racket. I remember the scent of whatever was cooking that clung to her apron when my grandmother hugged me and then offered me some treat. I remember the sparkle in her eyes as one or other of us told her how good a dish was or just, simply asked for seconds (or thirds). And yet, I can’t recall ever hearing my grandmother speak. Obviously I did, but all the other images are so much more powerful.

I’m always amazed and awed by women who leave their own mothers and homes for distant shores with no money, no extended family to rely on and, often, no knowledge of the language of their new land. My grandmother was 19 when she immigrated to Canada from Russia with my grandfather and a one year old daughter. They came across the Atlantic with little belongings and not many relatives here (the history is sketchy). What she did bring was her mother’s (and grandmothers’ and aunts’) recipes and the memories of their kitchens. I don’t know if I could be as brave as she, but I am truly grateful that she was.

Here's my favorite recipe of hers and the story that goes with it....






One wintry Friday night, when I was six, my mother (who was very pregnant with my brother) was getting my three-year-old sister ready to go to my Bubbie & Zaida's for dinner. She asked me to go downstairs and wait on the balcony for the taxi. Her last instruction after “Don’t leave the balcony” and “Call me when the taxi gets here” was “Don’t stick your tongue on the railing”.

I’ll never know why she told me not to. I had never attempted it before. But naturally, I had no choice but to try it out. I’m not sure how long I waited with my tongue on the rail, but once the taxi came, I went inside to tell my mother. What I didn’t realize was that my tongue had frozen to the railing and I had left the tip of it there. For your trivia information… there is a lot of blood in the tip of your tongue. I didn’t realize what had happened until my sister started crying hysterically in my mother’s arms as she came down the stairs. Looking back on things, I give my mother credit for keeping calm considering she had to deal with one bleeding child and another screaming one. My mother did some quick first aid and we took the taxi to the doctor, briefly stopping at my grandparents to deposit my sister with the rest of the family. They got a short version of the story that grew exponentially by the time we returned from the doctor (who gave me some tablet to keep under my tongue to stop the bleeding, and told me not to eat anything hot for a while).

Finally we got back to my grandparents! By now my tongue was throbbing and my mother, having realized the crisis was over, was lecturing me on my brilliant act. I was not very happy, and to make matters worse, all my cousins wanted me to stick my tongue out so they could see the hole where my tongue should be. The story of how much of my tongue was missing had been greatly exaggerated from the time my mother dropped my sister off and of course all my cousins had to make horrified faces and noises, and all my aunts had to continue the lecturing.

But the worst part of the ordeal… my grandmother had made my favorite spareribs and I couldn’t eat them! It still makes me sad to think about it. Guess I’ll just have to whip up a batch right now.

Here's to all the grandmothers and mothers and daughters who learn from them. Please head over and join the Apples & Thyme event and share your story too.

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9 comments:

The Passionate Palate said...

Ruth, what a great story! I am sorry about your tongue, but I couldn't help laughing. And isn't it funny how your tongue injury you remember so well because you couldn't eat those spareribs! Thanks for sharing the memories and participating.
Jeni

african vanielje said...

Ruth, what a lovely post, so full of smells, tastes and memories. I think your book is a wonderful idea, and I too am sorry about your tongu, but also couldn't help laughing. Bet those ribs taste good now!

Laurie Constantino said...

The story about your tongue as hilarious -- I could imagine all of it happening, and understand completely why you had to stick your tongue out. Great post, and the recipes looks terrific too. Thansk for posting this.

Ruth Daniels said...

Although it was such a long time ago, it still comes up in conversation when the cousins get together.

And the ribs....awesome!

Ann said...

What a great post! And it was nice to laugh, having just worked my way through a pile of tissues as I read through the Apples & Thyme round-up. Thanks for sharing your memories!

sognatrice said...

Such a warm, loving post--and the cookbook idea is one that I share as well. I'm hoping that by blogging a lot of my family recipes, it gives me the extra push I need to really get them together in book format.

You're an inspiration :)

Ruth Daniels said...

Thanks, I took a 3 month sabbatical from my day job - Learning & Performance Consultant to write it. That was more than 3 years ago. The book took 2 of them and by that time the blog was coming along and I discovered a new passsion...writing and more specifically...writing about food.

Have fun writing.

Barb McMahon said...

Love those family gatherings. And the stories that grow....

Julie said...

Holy smokes, it's straight out of "A Christmas Story," one of my favorite holiday movies! I bet you love that scene! Seriously, though--what a wonderful story! I wonder how you grandma fit all those people--I'm still trying to work out how to fit more than 8 in my little one-bedroom condo. Thank you for the story and recipe! I'm looking forward to trying it!