Food and Memory


Today I baked two small loaves of Irish soda bread.

I only make this treat about once a year. Let’s face it: a girl with my generous (some might say overgenerous) shape doesn’t need a lot of sweet breads in her life and in her tummy. I like to make soda bread around Saint Patrick’s Day, however.

Like the shamrock lights I throw on the window and on the piano, the hideous but fun green melamine plates I place on the table, the Irish and pseudo-Irish tunes I sing, and the Belleek bread plate I haul out of the China cabinet, it’s a tradition for me at this time of year. And I’m always careful to give away most of it!

My fingers cruised along the keyboard of my laptop to my food blog to look up the recipe. I know I should print out all my recipes, but then I’d just lose the printouts. (I lose things a LOT.) It’s very handy that the blog never gets lost.

I decided on my traditional soda-bread recipe. Over the years I have also posted one with whole-wheat flour and one with cheese, but this is my favorite.

At the bottom of the recipe I re-found a picture of my late mother Jan (a.k.a. Taffy). She is kneading soda bread. Among the commenters on this post was a Brazilian woman named Andrea who lives in Germany and writes a food blog in Portuguese for her family back home. (I have no idea how she found me!) “The recipe sounds great,” wrote Andrea, “and by the way, Jan is adorable.”

She had a point. Jan is wearing a little green hat and a big green apron. She is smiling despite the flour scattered about the table and the dough half-sticking to her hands. She looks as though she’s having a ball, and I have no doubt she was. She usually did.

My mother was the designated kneader and pie-crust roller in our family. I have learned to accomplish both of these tasks, but I’m never quite as good as she was.

Today’s loaves definitely look a tad rocky. Nevertheless, I like to think I was channeling her just a bit as I kneaded. Thinking of her as I inexpertly pushed and turned reminded me precisely why I decided to call my food blog In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens.

At its best, food doesn’t only taste good (a specialty of mine) and look good (not such a specialty of mine). It also connects us to other people. It connects us to people with whom and for whom we have cooked. It connects us to people who have shared their recipes and skills with us.

It even connects us to people with whom we have merely sat and chatted while chopping, stirring, or kneading in the kitchen. Thinking back over the years, I remember many conversations that took place during kitchen work, which tends to turn into kin work and friend work as well.

I remember being instructed by my grandmother on the proper way to wash dishes. She would be appalled at the way I generally wash them today, but she did teach me the correct procedure, and I can use it if I need to!

I remember the care with which she explained in what order—and in what water temperature—plates, silverware, glasses, and pans should be washed. She was channeling her own adopted mother as she spoke, I am sure.

I remember singing and laughing with my friend Faith as we waited for our penuche to reach the soft-ball stage at my summer home at Singing Brook Farm. It always seemed to take forever. Today when I make fudge it takes no time at all. We didn’t mind waiting, however. We had stories to tell and songs to sing.

I remember teaching my nephew Michael how to stir a soup when he was so little he had to stand on a stool to reach the stove. As he approaches his teenage years he is less likely to enjoy being in the kitchen so this memory is doubly precious. He was serious … and sweet … and VERY impressed with himself and me!

And I remember arguing and laughing with my mother as we kneaded bread.

Memories like these remind me that one way or another we’re always in our grandmothers’ kitchens. They make my soda bread sweeter … and my songs more celebratory.

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12 comments on “Food and Memory

  1. Deb says:

    Hey Tinky,

    Love the hat. What a great picture of Aunt Jan. I can hear your voice in my ear as I read your blogs. It always brings a smile and memories.

    Love Deb

  2. Kaye Hodges says:

    It was so good to see your Mom’s face again today and to hear your voice. I look forward to another time. So So many memories by long distance and via the net! Your special and don’t let anyone tell you anything different!
    Kaye

  3. Cynthia says:

    I have the same experience w kneading. I almost purchased some soda bread today but it definitively looked sad and I thought – I can make something better than this!!!

    Will try and will think about you when I do it tmw w Cate.

  4. Virginia D. Nazarea says:

    What wonderful thoughts! Food shapes, colors, and perfumes memory…what would we do if we did not have spring rolls and madeleines to transport us?
    My student in Roots and Rooting wrote an essay on Google recipes and she cited your blog. I asked her permission to send you her essay and she said yes so look for it in your email!

  5. Chris says:

    Yes, food (cooking and eating) memories with grandmothers. My entire Eulogy to my nonna had a food/love theme running through it.

    • tinkyweisblat says:

      Deb, I love the photo, too, and I’m glad you think I sound like me when I write; that’s what I’m aiming for

      Kaye, how lovely to hear from you, and thanks so much for the support.

      Cynthia, I hope your soda bread comes out beautifully.

      Virginia, what an honor!

      And, Chris, I remember your showing that to me. What a delicious thing memory is.

  6. Doris Matthews says:

    I’m so with you on that Tinky. My grandmother’s meat pies only appeared on Christmas Eve for our family celebration. She made the BEST ever and I cannot seem to duplicate her crust no matter how hard I try. The memories remain with me forever! Thanks for reminding us to honor those memories every chance we get. Keep on keepin’ on!

  7. harry Scott Boggs says:

    Hi there and Happy St. Patrick’s Day from a hayseed village that had Southern bar-b-que instead of corn beef and cabbage today at their street fair (Ocoee, FL near Orlando). Ya’ll really KNOW how to do up holidays the RIGHT WAY up there! I know that nearby we have an Irish dance school in a small storefront near a Publix supermarket…but the March 17th committee told me that they FORGOT about that dance school being there! You can bet that they’ll do Easter up grand around here; I hope maybe we’ll get Cinco de Mayo right. If not…ay, carramba!
    I think Taffy would really get a kick out of these Southern cracker-style antics I witness around here…

    • tinkyweisblat says:

      I actually think barbecue would be a nice change from corned beef and cabbage; by the time we finished singing last night the restaurant smelled so VERY cabbage-y. But I’m sorry about the dancers. Maybe next year? And I agree about Taffy…….

  8. Arlene says:

    I love your memories. And I love your blogs. Thank you for being a great example for me. I know my ‘what’s a girl to do’ time will be coming. Today is such a gift! Thanks for sharing with us! 🙂

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