Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Save Everything

Growing up in Small-Town America, I used to spend a good chunk of my summers in Even-Smaller-Town America with my grandparents. In addition to weeding the garden, watching summer rainstorms out the big front window, swimming at the high school pool, camping at the ranger station, building clubhouses out of cardboard boxes (only to watch them disintegrate in the above mentioned rainstorms), I helped my grandmother clean out her china closets. I've talked about my Granny before, but I hope you'll indulge me once again. .

She put a lot of trust in a clumsy 11-year-old girl to carefully take all of the dishes out of the cabinet and all of the salt and pepper shakers and tiny tea sets out of the corner glass-front closets. I'd heard stories about them, where they came from, who gifted them to my grandparents, how old they were, and yet I never tired of hearing them.
All of the dishes sat atop linen doilies with a crocheted border out of thread so tiny it made my eyes hurt to try and pick out what stitches she used. We removed them from the cabinets, washed them, starched them and layed them out on old pillowcases and pinned around the edges to keep their shape. The "play room" as we called it looked like a snow storm had come through with all of those doilies resting on the floor like giant snowflakes. Granny always told us to stay out of there so as not to disturb them before they were dry, but when she wasn't looking I'd tiptoe in between them just to get a closer look or touch.
Each dish was hand washed, dried and put back to rest in its cabinet until they made their appearance at Thanksgiving and Christmas. My Granny treated everything she had as if it were a prized possession. Living through the Great Depression I'm sure had much to do with her conservationist approach to living.
We loved drinking out of her special little fancy glasses, later realizing that they were these glass bottles that once contained various cheese spreads used to make her holiday cheese balls.

She saved styrofoam "plates" that brought donuts home from the store bakery. Aluminum foil was washed and reused countless times. If a plate were to break, she glued and glued and glued it until it was more glue than plate. Her 9x13 aluminum pan (she called them "drippers" which I still don't know the origin of, but I like calling it that) had a tiny hole in it, and she plugged it with a little piece of a dish towel - good as new!
I could go on and on, but what I take from these experiences is how she saw the good in something that to others seemed unusable. That's how she was with her family too. This month marks the eighth anniversary of her passing. I was a newlywed of less than a month when she died, and I've always been afraid of forgetting her. Thankfully, the memory of her is kept alive in the few dishes of hers that I now have, an occasional dream, and I think in the way I approach my own life, and how I'd like to do so even more.

And to share part of her with you, here's one of her famous dishes she used to make. If you like maple bar donuts, you will die over this because it's all that and more! This was always in the kitchen waiting for us after we made the 12-hour drive for Christmas. I think she even made it in the plugged-up-hole-dripper...that made it taste better!
Maple Nut Cake
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 pound walnuts, chopped
1 cup milk
1/2 cup shortening
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. maple flavoring
Mix well with enough flour to make a stiff dough (thicker than boxed cake mix but thinner than banana bread dough consistency), about 2 cups. Spread in greased and floured 9x13 pan, and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. When cool, spread with 7-minute icing.

7-Minute Icing
2 egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. maple flavoring
5 TB water
1 1/2 tsp. light corn syrup

Cook all ingredients except flavoring in double boiler seven minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, add flavoring and frost cake.


  1. Jen--I love the memories you have of granny. We share many of the same ones, though I don't remember washing doilies. I do remember washing numberless plastic bags and drying them with a towel (even sandwich ones) to reuse over again. I love this cake and the "dripper" story. I loved getting out the fancy dishes, too. I miss her even more this time of year. Love you, too.

  2. What wonderful memories you've shared to help us all remember a wonderful woman, who seemed to be ahead of her time --- lots of ambition and frugal, yet creative, ways to help ends meet. I, too, remember so many of those memories and are so glad you reminder me of them. I miss my Mom (Granny) too, especially since the 12th is the 8th anniversary of her death. Love you too.