Grandmother gave me many gifts, which have been handed down for generations. Simple family secrets about how to nourish your body and soul.
I imagine that every mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother before her passed them on by silently working side by side with every future generation, whether they were paying attention or not.
They are a part of my soul. They are in my blood. They are who I am. They are who my children will be.
One of them arrived silently the first time I made beef stew all by myself.
She had written down many recipes, had given me her recipe books, and prepared many Sunday dinners as I watched from below. As a child, she never told me the recipes, but she guided my young hands, and showed me what to do. I can't say I recall any measurements, much less seeing her measure much of anything. She just knew what to do.
I heard many a story about her mother, and Grandfather's mother, and the mothers before them, as they grew up in the countryside of Arkansas. It was where Grandfather said, "you never knew where the depression began or where it ended."
She grew up on a farm, her father gone most of her earliest years, sick with tuburculosis. As the story goes, he snuck out of the hospital and she was conceived. Blondie Raye was born in a blizzard on Valentines Day, in a small home on in the mountains, into the hands of a thirteen year old girl, as her young older sister sat nearby.
Her life began the hard way, as future generations didn't. They killed their own food, and canned, and froze goods for the winters and future seasons. She struggled and treaded water most of her life. Grandfather worked in the family's Gowens General Store, and eventually together they ran the Rainbow Cafe before they set off to make a life of their own.
She carried every secret with her on how to make good country food. She knew how to improvise, and make something out of what some would see as nothing. She probably baked thousands of cobblers, cakes and dinner rolls. Stirred countless beef stews and chilis. And when it was time shared it with me, her only grandchild, a the female, born of one of her two sons.
Before I had children, I could burn cereal. Baking was another deal altogether though. I luckily had that gift from early on. But, after getting pregnant I decided I had to learn how to cook. Some of my fondest memories were sitting in my Grandmother and Nana's kitchens. They always smelled like food, home cooked meals three times a day. I wanted the same for my children. I love that they can sit side by side as I make hearty, healthy food to nourish us.
So a few years ago I decided to make beef stew. The hard headed woman that I am I decided to take it on alone, and see what I could pull off. I gathered the ingredients, searched a few recipes to make sure I had it all right, because I had no idea about the spices. I always figure the simpler the better. I wanted to surprise myself, and her.
Stew meat, carrots, potatoes, onions, beef stock, pepper, salt, rosemary, parsley, and corn starch sat out on the counter. I browned the meat, added the spices and stock and simmered it about an hour. Just before the timer went off I thickly sliced the carrots, potatoes, and onions, and prepared a few teaspoons of corn starch to pour in. There were no measurements, just the thought of getting it just right. I simmered it about another hour and during that time the kitchen smelled like my Grandmother's home.
I haven't ate meat in years but decided to taste it. Somehow, the recipe was in my bones, in my blood, and I had pulled it off. I made Grandmother's stew.
That's how so many of our gifts come. Invisibly, silently, handed down from heart to heart, hand to hand, full of love. They are given when we aren't even looking, and aren't sure we're really paying attention. Then one day, we look up, and they are there right in front of us.
It reminds me to be careful of what I do and what I share, because it will linger for generations to come.
Last night, on a cool Fall evening, we sat down around the table, and all my boys shared Grandmother's stew.
Thank you, GG.
What are some favorite gifts passed down to you from generations ago?