Posts Tagged ‘Grandmothers’ Recipes’

My Grandmother’s Johnnycake

Saturday, May 9th, 2009
My grandmother as a young woman (right) with her sister Alma (I love that hands-on-hips attitude)

My grandmother as a young woman (right) with her sister Alma (I love that hands-on-hips attitude!)

My mother tells me she has been thinking of her own mother a lot lately. So as Mother’s Day approaches I’m paying tribute to both of them by publishing a recipe from my grandmother’s files.

My mother’s mother, Clara Engel Hallett, was the proverbial good plain cook. Brought up on a farm, she helped her adopted mother with chores and cooking. She polished her culinary skills the summer before her marriage in 1912 by attending Fannie Farmer’s School of Cookery in Boston. One of my great regrets is that I learned about this too late to ask my grandmother what the legendary Fannie Farmer was like!

I do know that a couple of her cooking techniques echo Miss  Farmer’s trademarks. My grandmother was scrupulously exact in her cooking and recipe transcriptions, as befitted someone who sat at the feet of “the mother of level measurements.”

And even when she was all alone she took care to make sure that every meal she prepared was attractive and well balanced, as Miss Farmer decreed it should be. I wish I had inherited this instinct; when I’m alone I eat anything from a salad to a bowl of cereal, and balance pretty much goes out the window. 

Fannie Farmer’s influence lives on in our family through our near veneration of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Some of my friends identify The Joy of Cooking as their cooking primer; others, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.

For my mother and me the cooking bible has always been Fannie Farmer. We own hundreds of cookbooks but somehow almost always turn to that one volume when we’re looking for a simple, tasty way to prepare something basic.

Clara and Bruce Hallett with Baby Janice
Clara and Bruce Hallett with Baby Janice

The recipe below doesn’t come from Fannie Farmer–unless it’s one Miss Farmer herself taught my grandmother to make that long-ago summer. (There’s no attribution on the recipe card.) It’s a basic cornbread. My grandmother grew up in Vermont and used the old New England name Johnnycake, a.k.a. Jonnycake or Journey Cake, for her bread.

When I make it I think of this thrifty, versatile Yankee woman–and of her daughter, my mother Jan. And of course of Miss Farmer, a culinary mother to millions! Happy Mother’s Day to all……..

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Clara Hallett’s Johnnycake

Ingredients:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter
1 cup buttermilk or thick sour milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 to 4 tablespoons sugar (depending on how sweet you like your cornbread)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8-by8-inch baking pan or a 9-inch iron skillet. Sift the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt together three times. Set them aside.

Melt the butter. While it is melting, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and baking soda. Mix them into the melted butter, along with the sugar. Stir this mixture lightly into the flour mixture.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the johnnycake until it is firm and browned a little on the edges, about 20 minutes. Serves 6.

My grandmother later in life (she was almost 90; I, 21)
My grandmother later in life (she was almost 90; I, 21)

Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

matzo-ball-soupweb

Food makes memory concrete in a way nothing else can–except perhaps music. When we make or taste a dish we forge a physical, sensory link to the person who inspired or gave us the recipe. We can almost reach out and touch the dead, nourished by their love.

Laura at the blog The Spiced Life understands this connection. She is hosting a blogging event in which she asks food bloggers to write about their grandmothers’ culinary accomplishments. I went to my paternal grandmother’s house every spring for Passover so I tend to think of her a lot at this time of year.

The Logo for Laura's Blogging Event

The Logo for Laura’s Blogging Event

My father’s mother wasn’t what I’d call kitchen oriented. As a young woman she lived a busy life outside the home instead of cooking. We were told she had been a spy in her youth (or at least a smuggler—the tales were all a little murky).

Sarah Hiller Weisblat came to this country from Poland in 1920 with her husband and three small children. Her brothers had already immigrated and set up a business in New York City; they gave my grandfather a job so that he could support the family.

My grandmother had many skills. She and her mother, who also immigrated (although she refused to learn English), ran their family and eventually their new neighborhood.

My grandmother radiated competence. I recently learned from my father’s cousin Herb that she delivered him. I don’t know whether a midwife or doctor was unavailable or whether this was something my Nana did on a semi-regular basis!

She was also diplomatic (perhaps a hangover from her days as a spy). When my Jewish father fell in love with my Christian mother, neither set of parents was thrilled. It wasn’t a time when a lot of intermarriage took place. Nevertheless, my grandmother welcomed my mother to the family and defended her against any criticism. She recognized a fellow smart, able woman when she saw one.

As I noted above, my grandmother didn’t do a lot in the kitchen, at least not by the time I met her. Perhaps her mother was the family cook. My father used to recall seeing a carp swimming in the bathtub in his childhood just before it was time to make gefilte fish. In my youth the gefilte fish came out of a jar.

(Although I’m a fan of fresh foods, I think in retrospect this was probably just as well; I would have yelled bloody murder at bath time if I’d seen a fish in the porcelain before me, no matter how thoroughly the tub had been scrubbed!)

I do remember two things that my grandmother made well and on a regular basis—pot roast and matzo-ball soup. The matzo ball soup was particularly visible at Passover since the most prominent food on the Passover table is matzo, unleavened bread. When the Jews were finally allowed to leave Egypt in the Exodus story, they were in such a hurry that they baked their bread without letting it rise. In commemoration of this event their descendants eat no bread except matzo during Passover, which lasts for eight days. Matzo meal (ground matzo) is a staple of Passover cooking.

For the non-cognoscenti, matzo-ball soup is a bit like chicken-noodle soup. The balls resemble dumplings in chicken broth. The best matzo-ball soup—the kind everyone’s grandmother (including mine) used to make—is created with homemade chicken or turkey stock. You may use a high-quality broth from the store, however.

The trick to this soup is not to make the matzo balls too big; if you do, they swell up and overwhelm your soup! You may of course jazz up the soup by adding chopped vegetables and/or a little ginger to the matzo balls. As a sodium freak I actually like to add a drop of soy sauce to my stock. My grandmother made basic matzo-ball soup, however, so basic matzo-ball soup this is.

When I make or taste it I am transported back to the home at which we visited my grandparents in Long Beach, New York. This tiny house always seemed to expand to accommodate the many relatives and friends who came to visit, particularly at Passover. My grandmother’s Seder table there was a symbol of her hospitality, of her generous personality, and of the ties that brought family and friends together at holidays. It was never without matzo-ball soup.

The Weisblat Family a few months before coming from Poland to the United States. From left to right: Sarah, Selma, Benny, Baby Abe (my dad!), and William (then known as Wolf)

The Weisblat Family a few months before coming from Poland to the United States. From left to right: Sarah, Selma, Benny, Baby Abe (my father!), and William (then known as Wolf)

Ingredients:

2 eggs
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
a small amount of finely chopped onion (optional)
2 tablespoons soda water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or melted butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup matzo meal
6 cups chicken stock

Instructions:

In a small bowl, beat the eggs.With a balloon whisk, whisk in the parsley, dill, onion (if using), soda water, oil, salt, and pepper.Then stir in the matzo meal.Cover the mixture, and refrigerate it for at least an hour but not more than 6 hours.

Oil your hands, and shape the dough into small balls (about 1/2 inch across). Pop the balls CAREFULLY into salted boiling water.

Boil the balls, covered, for 25 minutes over medium-low heat.Do not peek at the balls while they are cooking. Drain the matzo balls.

Bring the chicken stock to a boil, covered, and put the balls in it. Boil, covered, for at least 15 minutes. Serves 4 to 5.

My Grandparents Later in Life (perhaps the 1940s?)

My Grandparents Later in Life (perhaps the 1940s?)