Memories of my grandmother are rooted deeply in the kitchen, around the food she made with love, and the conversations we had as the apple pie baked or the creamy potato soup simmered. Her German accent never left her, and her hands never forgot how to make homemade bread. Making her Chicken Chow Mein last week, straight from the handwritten recipe card she had passed on, brought me as much joy as any meal I’ve ever made.
Ruby Jane made things from scratch, and that was her specialty. She used real cream, the lard she rendered, rhubarb jam from the plants alongside her garage, and sought out fresh peas & sweet corn from farmer friends.
When my parents would leave for a vacation, I packed my bags with excitement knowing I was going on my own vacation to grandma’s. I couldn’t wait for us to play lots of cards, spend time at the park and cook together.
Since my grandfather passed quite early, she enjoyed having another hungry tummy to feed when I came to visit. Instead of meals for one, we could make some of her family favorites like Chicken Chow Mein. (Even my 10 year old self found it ironic that her German palate loved this americanized Japanese dish that became popular in the 1950’s.)
While I stood at the stove sautéing the garlic and mushrooms in lard, just like she had, I thought about what the kitchen embraces for everyone, in all parts of the world. We live, play, cook and celebrate in these parts of our home, and they shape who we are. It’s one of the most honest forms of gathering we have, a place where traditions and memories are created.
The kitchen is the heart of the home – and so much of life plays out in it, in its least studied, most honest forms.
There is so much beauty in that.
There is so much beauty in taking a recipe from the past and letting the handwriting and abridged notes tell stories.
I garnished the plate with green onions and cilantro for a burst of freshness, and served it over a bed of cauliflower rice. The classic flavors were just right, the crunch from the water chestnuts and bamboo shoots the perfect texture contrast.
As I sat and savored this powerful comfort dish, I couldn’t help but wish Grandma and I could cook together just one more time. But that’s what kitchen memories are for.