I walked into my grandma’s 100-year-old farmhouse last Sunday afternoon and found Grandma Nola in the kitchen making cream cheese for a red velvet cake she had baked. Grandma’s 1950 bachelor’s degree in home economics still gets used in her daily life.
My mom and two daughters were there also. We all sat around the kitchen table in conversation. I didn’t say it at the moment, but four generations in that kitchen meant a lot to me.
I let my mind drift to my childhood when I would help by peeling potatoes over the kitchen sink during harvest with my grandma, preparing big noon dinner meals for “the men” and I was the only girl at the table.
Yes, dinner is at noon on the farm. Lunch was what I packed in the “lunch kits” for an afternoon snack. Supper is an evening meal.
I thought about the sandwich, cookies and drinks rotation my grandma had for lunch kits. She trained me in, and packing lunch kits was a favorite task.
I labeled each hard plastic lunch box with masking tape and wrote out the person’s name in my neatest penmanship in permanent marker. Meat sandwiches one day, Cheez Whiz the next, peanut butter and jelly the following day.
Two cookies each for the big eaters and one for the lighter eaters. And the cookies were never store-bought and always homemade from Grandma. We didn’t repeat the same kind of cookie in a lunch kit on consecutive days either. And one or two healthy eaters requested a piece of fruit in their lunch kit instead of cookies. Then there were the Thermos of drinks to fill with either iced tea — brewed in a huge glass jar each afternoon in the summer sunlight — lemonade, coffee or water.
As a young girl, I made up a song to remember how many teas, lemonades, coffees and waters had to be filled. I lined up each completed lunch kit by the entry door so after dinner, each person would take theirs as they left for the afternoon and returned it empty in the evening or early morning to be refilled.
Meals on the go or sit-down supper meals in the field preparation started shortly after dinner was done and cleaned up. Farm kitchen lessons from my grandma and mom still impact me today in how I prepare, plan and cook for my family and large groups I entertain.
I learned to be thrifty with different cuts of meat, to shop for what was listed as on sale in the small town grocery sales page, to stock up on the pantry basics, to grow your own vegetables in a garden and to freeze and can the bounty of the garden harvest.
It wasn’t food bloggers, magazines or cooking shows that taught me how to be a home cook and entertainer of family and friends. The direct teaching and example of my grandma and mom’s cooking taught me the importance of the family home cook.
Each selflessly served in a role on the farm that was needed. While the role of a “farm wife” is often used, the mom and grandma I was raised by are more farm CEO’s, chief executive officers or COO’s, chief operating officers. Both are college-educated women who love the farm, the way of life and knew the importance of their varied farm and food roles.
My mom taught me early on that while cooking for farm crew might not be the most glamorous farm job, someone had to do it. There is no drive-thru fast food to deliver to fields. The closest grocery store used to be two aisles and was two miles away but is closed now. Now we travel 15 to 20 miles away for a grocery store. The nearest fast food drive-thru option? That’s 60 miles away.
Grandma’s kitchen evokes training and memories. While I didn’t tell her last Sunday, I am always proud to walk into her home and take great pride in the food preparation lessons my mom and she taught me.
I now teach my kids the art of food and meal preparation and the willingness to serve in the role you can fill to best help others around you.
What is your fondest memory of your grandma or mom’s kitchen? I’d love to hear from you. Either with an email firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @katpinke