Transcribing my Granny’s cookbooks

On New Year’s Day, I took my boys to my Granny and PawPaw’s house for our annual family ritual of eating black-eyed peas for good luck.  My aunt brought some delicious spoonbread, and my kids raided the ever-present candy jar in the windowsill.  When I took our dishes in the kitchen to put them in the sink, my eyes were drawn to the shelf above it, where I found a yellowed, brittle stack of cookbooks that looked ancient.  I picked up the stack and sifted through it.  It was a treasure trove of mid-twentieth-century housewife instruction:  a copy of the “New American Cook Book” by Lily Wallace from 1941, stacks of the little recipe cards you used to pick up off the shelf in the supermarket in the 1970’s and 80’s to help you make something quick and cheap.

The crowing glory of my Granny’s cookbook collection was her very own, handwritten recipe book.  It was in an old composition book with a missing cover, the pages faded, most of them with water or oil damage.  This is the recipe book I could picture my grandmother scribbling in whenever she came across an appealing-sounding recipe in Woman’s Day or Better Homes and Gardens, the book she probably reached for when my mom and aunt and uncles were kids and headed home from school and she had to get dinner on the table after a day spent working at the department store.

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I’ve typed all the recipes it contains – all the ones I could make out, anyway – into my Paprika recipe app so I can keep them.  I’d like to pick some of them, maybe the ones my mom and her siblings remember my Granny making when they were little, and have them made into a nice cookbook or scrapbook with some family photos.  For now, I’ll share a couple of them:

Quick Pocketbook Rolls

I remember having these rolls with our Thanksgiving dinner when I was a kid and we went to my Granny and PawPaw’s house for Thanksgiving.  My Granny was always stirring a huge bowl of mashed potatoes, and my PawPaw was giddy with excitement at the prospect of using the electric knife.  My aunt and cousins cook Thanksgiving dinner now, but I think we may have to add these rolls to the menu.

1 cup milk

1 tbsp. sugar

butter

3 1/2 cups sifted flour

2 tbsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 egg

In saucepan, combine milk, sugar, 2 tbsp. butter and egg.  Heat slowly until butter is barely melted.  Remove from heat and stir in flour sifted with baking powder and salt.  Turn out onto floured board and knead until smooth  Then roll to 1/4 inch in thickness and cut in rounds with 3 inch cookie cutter.  Brush with melted butter.  Grease center with back of knife, fold over and press edges together.  Put on greased cookie sheet.  Bake in hot oven 20 minutes or until brown.

Fudge Bars

My mom tells me that when she was little, my Granny used to make the best fudge.

1/3 cup shortening

1 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup flour

1 cup nuts

1/2 tsp. vanilla

2 eggs

1/4 tsp. salt

Mix shortening and chocolate together, then mix rest of ingredients and bake.

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Vivian Howard’s Grits Changed My Life

By now, the festivities of the holiday season are behind us, and the new year is ahead.  The kids are out of school, I’m off work and we’re all enjoying our Christmas presents.

This year, my husband took my advice and went to Southern Season to find a gift for me.  I knew as soon as I saw the logo on the side of the rustic wooden crate – “Vivian Howard for Southern Season” – that I was going to love whatever was inside.  I’ve been a fan of Chef Howard’s since becoming addicted to her PBS show, “A Chef’s Life” earlier this year.  In the crate were a jar of Boat Street Pickled Figs and a bag of Old School Brand grits, along with a recipe card explaining how to “Pimp My Grits.”

Now let me just take a minute to explain that I am a Richmond, Virginia born and raised, Southern, grits-loving girl.  I’ve been eating grits my whole life, so I know a thing or two about good grits.  I remember my mom making pots of grits on the stove when I was little – delicious, thick and savory with a couple of pats of butter or some sausage and cheese thrown in.  I’ve been known to routinely eat instant grits for breakfast at work, and I’ve extolled the virtues of good ‘ol Southern grits to my Northerner friends and acquaintances.  I’ve eaten grits in some amazing restaurants, and I love my favorite Richmond grits:  Croaker’s Spot’s cheddar ranch grits (absolutely divine served with their fried fish).

With all that being said, Vivian Howard’s “pimped” grits quite literally changed my life.

It starts with the quality of the grits themselves, and there’s a huge difference between even my favorite store brand, House Autry, and the stone-ground Old School grits.  Then I discovered that Chef Howard uses milk (though she mentioned that you can use other liquids – water, or stock for savory grits).  I don’t know why, but I’ve never thought to use milk in my grits.  Lesson learned.

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Next, forget the old adage about a watched pot never boiling.  If you’re making grits, you’re watching your pot, though Chef Howard does offer the advice of using a double boiler if you don’t want to constantly stand and whisk – with the downside being that that method could take up to two hours (ain’t nobody got time for that!).  In went the grits and milk, on went the heat.

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Next is the labor-intensive part.  You want the grits to heat up almost to a boil, then stay on a simmer while they thicken.  This means near-constant whisking to keep the milk from scalding and the grits from burning to the bottom of the pot.  You want a nice, thick texture before you pull them off the heat, then Chef Howard instructs to add cream.

At this point, you can pour them into a bowl and “pimp” them.  I took Vivian’s suggestion and topped mine with a couple of pats of butter, crumbled oven-baked bacon, pickled figs and freshly-grated Parmesan.

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And there you have it – Vivian Howard’s pimped grits!  The combination of the salty, crispy bacon and Parmesan with the sweet and sour taste of the figs was the perfect match for the creamy grits.  I don’t know that I will ever make grits the same old way again.

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Happy holidays, and best wishes to all for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015!