During my family’s annual Christmas Eve party last weekend, a group of us were in the kitchen (where else?), talking about my cooking adventures, and someone said to me “your Granny would have been so proud of you…” I was taken for a moment, but not because I was surprised at all to hear it. My Granny was proud of all of her children and grandchildren, whether it was for academic achievements, athletic prowess, or just being the tallest kid in class. She would have been proud of me if I chose to dig ditches for a living, as long as I enjoyed it. But to hear it put into words that she would have been proud of me for this culinary adventure meant a lot.
Anyone that has read my “About Me” page will know that I give much of the credit for my culinary interest to my Granny, Neva Lee Knight Gough, in whose kitchen I spent the majority of my youth. She was a stunning woman, beautiful both inside and out. She had a constant smile, and this huge, gi-normous laugh. The kind of laugh that made others laugh to hear it.
She dedicated much time and talent to support fund-raising efforts for the nuns at the Incarnate Word convent–for several generations my family has attended school there. Many of those efforts were kitchen-centric. Each year, the convent would have a “Pounding Party”. This was not when all the naughty students got clobbered for their misdeeds, although that would have been quite a sight. This was a “stock the pantry” event, of sorts, for the nuns. All of the guests would bring bags of sugar, flour, cornmeal, etc, to restock the sisters’ kitchen for the coming year. I remember her making the bourbon spiked eggnog for this annual Christmas event, and folding in copious amounts of stiffly whipped cream. We Catholics are opposed neither to adult beverages, nor to copious amounts of whipped cream. We are opposed to giving children booze, however, so as good as it looked, I never got to taste it..
What I remember most is that she always, always cooked with love. Favorites included Chicken and Dumplings (she did the big, fluffy, drop variety), Vegetable Beef Soup, and Chicken a la King.
In the Fall, the kitchen became a non-stop whirl of baking and candy making, of fruitcake, penuche, divinity, and fudge. The whole house smelled of cloves, and cinnamon, and caramelized sugar.
If you were sick, she made chicken noodle soup. And she would prepare your favorite meal on your birthday, your anniversary, or when you brought home a good report card.
My sister, Robbi, loved her homemade macaroni and cheese, with a side of canned beets. Gross. Have I mentioned my persistent aversion to beets?
My dad loved Chop-Chop, a recipe that surely came off a can of oriental vegetables in the 1950’s. It consists of pork chops caramelized in a large pot, and then covered with Chinese vegetables and soy sauce, and simmered until falling apart. It is one of those comforting dishes, and has become most synonymous with remembering Granny.
I loved her Salmon Patties. The recipe for Salmonettes was clipped from a Hints From Heloise column a long, long, time ago. It apparently is still requested periodically, and appears to have been circulated again by Heloise in 2008, by request. I am including a copy of the one that Granny had in her recipe tin….I just love the verbage and tone of this article, written in the days of June Cleaver and Donna Reed. I think I’ll make some this weekend–as my Granny did, I put in some grated onion, and flatten them into patties.
My Granny was my Pop’s only love, and he was hers. The picture below was taken when she was 13….13! There was a garden party at her school, and she didn’t have the right dress to wear, so she fashioned one out of a tablecloth. Oh, if I could wear a tablecloth like that!
She looks like a goddess–no wonder my Pop believed her when she told him she was 18, as was he. I’m not sure if her age made her jail bait back then, but it doesn’t matter–they spent their whole lives together.
After serving in the Navy during WWII, he worked as a postman until he retired. Pop had the voice of an angel. As a child, he sung in the Boy’s Town Choir. As an adult, he sung in his church and diocesan choirs and was always humming or singing to himself—“Ave Maria”, “Oh Danny Boy”, “The Lord’s Prayer”…I can’t get through anyone singing these without shedding a few tears. Like my Granny, he also donated of his time and talent, running the old mimeograph machine for the Church chancery office, and helping out the Incarnate Word Sisters in any way he could. If angels exist in Heaven, then I know they are both among them, since they were angels here on Earth.
On an old hand written recipe for 7 Minute Frosting, or Angel Frosting, she had written in the margin “Bob’s favorite”. It is also one of my favorites, and an excellent foil to a Devil’s Food Cake, or something with fresh berries. It is beautiful, shiny, fluffy, and develops the slightest, and most delicious crust on the outside if you frost your cake a day ahead of time. Try this with my recipe for Chocolate Cake, The Chocolate Cake
- 3 ½ cups sugar
- 4 T corn syrup
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup water
- 8 egg whites, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bring sugar, syrup, salt and water to a boil until candy thermometer reads 242 degrees.
Meanwhile, beat egg whites and cream of tartar in a mixing bowl to a froth. With the mixer running, pour in hot sugar mixture in a slow stream. When all has been added, beat on high for 7 minutes or until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla or other flavoring and continue beating until a nice spreading consistency is reached.