My grandmothers were very different; I cherished each of them for different reasons as I was growing up. Grandma Helen’s house was always about things new and shiny and current trends. Nana’s house was always about warmth and tradition and time standing still.
I don’t remember a lot of Grandma Helen’s cooking. I remember her taking me out to lunch and shopping for a “special something.” I do remember enjoying two different things that she fixed for me – lettuce with sugar, and iced tea. I loved her lettuce! It was always a fresh, crisp piece of iceberg lettuce that she sprinkled with a little sugar. I remember sitting at the bar counter in her kitchen looking out the big window of the den to the backyard. The lettuce was always such a treat, and at five years ol I was sure that it was a special treat just for me!
Grandma Helen’s iced tea was always just perfect. Just sweet enough, just dark enough, just cool enough, just right. I remember that it wasn’t sun tea, but tea from a jar – that’s just how tea was made. She would make it a pitcher at a time, and when I got older and made the tea from a jar a glass at a time, mine was never the same. Although the tea I made may have tasted the same and have the right color, it had lumps and bubbles, and Grandma Helen’s never did. I actually realized a few years ago when visiting my cousin in Birmingham that what my Grandmother used to fix was what the South calls Sweet Tea.
Nana’s cooking I remember better. Partly because I lived with her during my first two years of college – her house was much closer to campus then where I went to high school. I remember her chicken and rice, I remember her spinning pantry, I remember her stove, her tile kitchen, her instant coffee – and that’s just the food related stuff. I remember the most, and miss greatly, her cream of wheat and pancakes.
Nana would offer to fix breakfast and when she fixed cream of wheat it was absolutely perfect. It took a while to cook, but was always worth the wait. It was creamy, never lumpy, with a perfectly smooth-as-silk white color. I tried to make it a few times when I was living on my own, it never turned out like Nana’s. My step-mom has even tried to fix it for me, it was good, but it is just not Nana’s. I don’t think anything will ever come close because my memory of her cream of wheat just cannot be matched. At this point, I choose to live with the memory of perfection not making attempts which come up a distant second.
Nana also made the best pancakes. She used a cast iron griddle, poured the Bisquick batter from a measuring cup, and the pancakes were always “silver dollar” size. She always cooked them to just the right color, with exact thinnest every time and all uniform in size. She would tell me that she waited until the pancake “told” her when to turn them - when the bubbles appeared all over the top before the first flip. My pancakes turn out pretty good, but they are not Nana’s. I like making pancakes on Sunday mornings, more on that in a later story…
In retrospect, I wish I would have cared more about cooking at the time and paid more attention to Nana’s cooking, especially during those two years I lived with her. At the time, I was just focused on other things.