By Deborah Chalk
It was a small old tin plaque in my grandmother’s kitchen for as long as I can remember. All of the children, many dozens of grandchildren, and their children, before the kitchen closed for good, learned the meaning of the word “free” at my grandmother’s apron side. The food was always anticipated ahead, no matter which kid travelled the farthest, we were already tasting chicken and dumplings, pot roast, creamed corn, fried catfish, baked apples and sweet potato pies long before we got to her house. Oh and did I mention fresh made peach ice cream? What about ice cold watermelon, already seeded and chunked? One of my cousins and I had quite the battle over a bowl of Grandmother’s dumplings. Of course there was always enough to feed her army of spoiled brats but never any leftovers. We learned about quality over quantity.
At her funeral, dozens and dozens of “kids” reminisced what “eating free” meant to them. It was such a tribute to one of the most special people anyone could know. We learned that hard work disappears when doing it out of love. We learned math and chemistry that stayed with us a lifetime. We learned tricks of the trade that have been used in kitchens all over the world for all time. Icky black bananas became delicious bread, peaches and apples were peeled with a surgeon’s precision and the peelings had to be fed to the worms. Nothing was wasted. Seasoning became an art form. Butter burned if you took your eyes off of it and water never boiled if you didn’t. Learning how food was to look, feel, smell, taught us patience.
We learned to use the kitchen counter to make dumplings, and how hard it was to clean up your mess if you got in a rush. It was always amazing to us that juicy equated to sticky and ants would take you over where you stood if you did not clean up quickly after working with fruit. We learned so much those summers in Grandmother’s kitchen, never grumbling when sent out to gather blackberries or shuck corn. We learned about scrubbing pots, setting tables, saying grace and using manners. Most noon meals were large, long and revolved around listening to Paul Harvey on the radio, so we learned about the world, too. Grandmother’s commentary on the information, always mixed with justice and faith, taught us what “speak softly and carry a big stick” really meant.
We all agreed, providing us all those years with “free food”, Grandmother really gave us what money couldn’t buy: Love, sharing, gratitude, patience, dexterity, skills and confidence that have stayed with us a lifetime.
Try these fall recipes with some of our wonderful local produce and enjoy some quality eating.
Old Fashioned Apple Crisp
5 pounds apples (use a variety)
Zest and juice of one lemon and one orange
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 ½ cups flour
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup oatmeal
½ pound cold, unsalted butter diced
Preheat oven to 350, Butter a 9X13 baking dish. Peel, core & cut apples into large wedges. Combine gently with remaining ingredients. To make topping, combine all the ingredients & cut with two knives until crumbly & butter is the size of peas. Scatter evenly over apple. Place dish on a sheet pan & bake for 1 hour until top is brown & the apples are bubbly. Serve warm maybe with vanilla ice cream??. Works for me!
Apple Filled Squash Halves
2 acorn squash
1 lb. lean grown beef (or bulk sausage)
1 small sweet onion, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tart apples, pared and coarsely chopped (about two cups)
¼ cup raisins (or died cranberries like Craisins)
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash squash & cut in half. Remove all seeds & fibers from centers. Place halves cut side down in an ungreased baking pan. Add water to about 1/4 inch. Bake uncovered until squash is tender, 30-40 minutes. Meanwhile, brown meat & drain well. Sauté onion a few minutes in same pan without grease. Remove from heat, add meat back in with onion & stir in salt, cinnamon, apples and raisins. Turn squash to cut sides up; drain any liquid. Scoop out pulp from shells, leaving a ¼ inch thick wall in each. Season shells with salt & pepper. Mash pulp & mix with meat & apple mixture. Spoon into shells. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar over each & drizzle with butter. Bake uncovered until the apple is tender, about 20 minutes.