As you take your first step into the farmhouse, you’re welcomed into the big, old kitchen. The black counter is right in front of you on the opposite wall, alongside the fridge and then an old sewing table covered with cactuses, airplane plants, a hibiscus and many other varieties of plants that grandma has loved and nurtured for many, many years.
To your left is the big, white farmhouse style sink with one tub (This is where I first learned what an actual dish pan was used for) and to your right the gray, metal legged table that’s held not only six boys many years ago, but lots of grandchildren and great-grandchildren since then too.
This room, this big, inviting kitchen was my favorite room in the house while I stayed there with grandma these past couple of months. It’s where grandma would sit in her beautiful, wooden, captain’s chair at the head of the gray table and explain to me where the specific recipe that we were looking for was at. I’d find a huge pile of recipe clippings and little booklets from a different time and age, and would bring them over to the table where we could both sit and go through them.
We would look through recipes like a Molded Applesauce Ring on a bed of leafy greens to Smothered Steak and a Homemade Angel Food Cake. That same angel food cake is the one that great-grandma remembers her own mother making for every single birthday in the family. Hand-beating the egg whites until stiff, being careful when folding the other ingredients in, baking, and then frosting it and maybe adding a pile of juicy, red strawberries to the plate.
After finding several recipes and listening to the stories that each one carried along with it, we would finally locate the age old, fool-proof recipe for grandma’s sweet dough which we would promptly read through. So I could go and start looking through the cabinets for ingredients we would need.
When the time came to actually make the giant, cinnamon tea-ring, grandma would sit in her chair and turn it a little towards me in the other half of the kitchen. I’d read the recipe to myself and carefully start pulling out the ingredients needed. This is where I first learned that when making a recipe that calls for sifted flour, you always sift the flour before you measure it into the bowl. Because normally, I would just measure it out, dump in the sifter, and go about my merry way. But not unless you want your dough or batter tremendously dry!
Once I would get the dough a good consistency, I’d carry it over to grandma so she could poke a finger at it and tell me whether to work a little more flour in, or if it felt about right. Then we’d put it in a greased bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and place in it a barely warm oven to let it rise. As soon as the dough grew to be bigger than the bowl that held it, it’d be time to roll it out on the freshly wiped down, black counter.
Beside that counter was grandma’s collection of about 10 or so cookbooks. Her beautiful, old, red Betty Crocker being one of the most well-loved treasures on that cabinet. In front of it were three recipes boxes; one great-grandma’s, one her mother’s, and then one her grandmother’s. Later in the quieter hours of the evening, I’d open one of these boxes and pour through every recipe in it. Pulling out what looked to be a favorite here or there, copying it into my own newly started recipe binder, and then carefully tucking it back into what had been it’s cozy little home for the past many years.
By this time, our dough was ready to roll out. “Be sure that there’s plenty of flour on the cabinet and that your pans are well greased” Grandma would tell me. After rolling it out, I’d smother the top side with a wonderful little combination that grandma had perfected throughout the years, made of brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter. Being sure to lather it on generously and then starting at the back, I’d roll it up. Later, after shaping the ring, slicing, baking, and frosting, we’d go into the living room for the evening to relax a bit, and by the time a couple more days had past by, we were out there in the kitchen again; grandma in her chair and myself working as her hands, making rice crispy treats, cookies, breads, tea rings, and other wonderful little things.
It was in that kitchen that I learned about how one never stirs dough for pie crust, you lift it with two forks. That you don’t measure the flour before you sift it, but after, and so many more little things. At the same time, what I learned from her had nothing to do with cooking. Whether it was simply sitting down with her big Bible at that gray table in the kitchen and flipping through the pages. Noticing the little jottings here or there on an edge, a highlighted passage straight from Jesus’s lips, or a stray bulletin from a Sunday morning service gone by; And my favorite part – those times when a verse would pop out at me and start us on a half-hour discussion.
Or maybe it was the sitting in the chair by her rocker in the living room on a cold, winter night with the stove boiling away in the other corner of the room, that’s what I’ll remember the most. Those nights where she would tell me little stories from a time long ago, stories that sometimes held a meaning or a lesson to be gleaned from them. Yet other times they were simply a sweet, little childhood memory that was as vivid to her as anything could be.
Like the time she told me of when she was laying in her bed at night as a little girl and the house was pitch black. It was quiet, and then in the other room there was a new baby’s cry. Grandma’s father came into her room with a lamp and told her she had a new sister – Betty.
So now as I sit here back at home, typing away on my keyboard, I can’t help but think of all that I learned from that sweet lady. Things that no textbook could teach me about and no Youtube tutorial could ever explain better. No matter how busy life gets or how old I become, I’ll never forget those weeks spent down with great-grandma, in her corner of the world. I love you, grandma!