For the last couple of weeks, I’ve asked you to think of questions to ask your grandmother and other older relatives over the holidays, questions about how they diapered babies and how they moved their babies around.
This week, I want you to think of questions about food. Find out what your grandma knows about food. Our diets have changed so much over the past 70 years that we might not recognize the foods of our grandparents and great-grandparents.
My Family Stories
Both of my grandmothers have been gone for a long time. Fortunately for me, there are many curious writers in my family who asked questions and recorded the answers. Before I was born, my father asked all of his nine brothers and sisters and his parents about their lives. A lot of the best stories I have about early 20th-century life come from the stories my dad collected.
For example, my grandparents’ 1st wedding anniversary fell on Thanksgiving Day 1914. My grandmother planned to have all of her family over for a big meal of pigeon pie. Her younger sister recalled that all of the pigeons were cleaned and preparations were humming along, until my uncle decided it was time to be born. The food was moved down the street to my great-grandparents’ house and the meal went forward, while my grandparents stayed behind at their house and attended to their new baby.
There is even the hint of a story about diapers in my family history. My grandmother’s father visited and entertained his five little grandchildren “by blowing bubbles in a pair of [the baby’s] rubber panties.” More about grandfatherly silliness than diapers, but cool to know anyway. This was recalled by my aunt who was 9 years old at the time. She died a few days ago at the age of 93. How great that I have this tantalizing peek into 1925.
I really wanted a clearer picture of home life, but I guess those weren’t the questions on my dad’s mind when he asked his family members what they remembered. The questions you ask shape what those who follow you will know.
I do remember my grandmother’s cooking. When most of her ten children and their many children would visit, she would cook a turkey and fresh rolls in her wood stove. I’m sure there was other food, but the distraction of turkey and homemade rolls leaves me with a blank. My favorite, though, was when I was with my grandmother alone and she would make fresh bread. While the bread was still hot, she would slice a piece for each of us then spread it with her own honey, which had a lot of wax in it. Then, we would set the honey-slathered slices aside on the counter. I would sniff and stare until the honey had cooled and hardened slightly. Then we would eat our treat, crunchy honey on soft wheat bread. This is my most vivid memory of my grandmother’s food.
The foods that we eat on holidays tend to be some of our longest-kept family traditions. For my other grandmother’s family, that means holiday cookies. Fortunately, my grandmother kept detailed recipes, and one of my cousins had these printed and given to all of my cousins. Now, all of us can make the familiar holiday cookies we remember.
Are there foods that your grandmother makes that you wish you could make, that you want to be able to share with your children and grandchildren? During the holidays this year, when your family gets together, hang out in the kitchen and ask about the food.
• How much?
• How hot?
• What consistency?
• How long?
Then, while that is cooking, ask about the foods of their childhoods. Ask if they remember their parents or grandparents talking about food. Reach as far back into their memories as you can.
Essential Step: Write It Down
Since you have managed to gather these golden nuggets of information, do your children a favor and write down everything you learn. Share with your siblings and cousins.
Make it a habit to find out how your grandmother and all of your older relatives raised their children, made their food, and lived their lives.
Happy Holidays, and good luck asking what Grandma knew. Come back and tell me what you find out.