I recently came across several photo albums full of my Grandma Maier’s hand-written recipes. I had borrowed them from my mother before Christmas and then put them on a shelf when I ran out of time to go through them. It was a pleasant surprise to find them.
As I flipped through the recipes, each one brought up a different memory of my grandma.
She had beautiful handwriting. Cursive that slants to the right, the angle never changing. Perfect penmanship, with extra long descenders that go right through the writing below it. She wrote slowly so she wouldn’t make mistakes. She always had a pad of paper and a pen handy. She was a note-taker, just like me, but she would be ashamed of my handwriting if she were alive to see it today.
Grandma Maier had a U-shaped kitchen, almost the same as mine, and us kids would pull up chairs to the backside of the counter in the dining room and watch her mix up a batch of something. She did all sorts of cooking, but the thing I remember most is watching her work dough. She had strong arms. She was a farmer after all. She could work dough for what seemed like hours, or at least seemed like hours to the child me. She would roll out strudel or cinnamon rolls, buns, cookies – OH, did she make cookies! But never plain old chocolate chip. Pfefferneusse, date rolls, snickerdoodles, things with raisins, things with almond extract. Vintage-y stuff.
She didn’t feed us snacks of fruit or yogurt. We ate baked goodies and pickles and saltines with butter smeared on them and drank her 7-up and Diet Rite. She re-heated hotdish or roasted meat or soup for us at mealtime. There was always kuchen for breakfast, or sweet rolls or store-bought donuts.
Holiday gatherings were a sight to behold. Food in every possible place all over the table. She served food family style, not buffet style like I do. She had a mix of modern and antique serving bowls and an endless supply of serving spoons. If ever I got a chance to sit at the grown-up table, the bowls were impossibly heavy to pass. I worried constantly about dropping the mashed potatoes, which always seemed to be in the bowl that must have belonged to her great-great grandmother.
She loved fruit in her desserts. Apples, cranberries, raisins, apricots, rhubarb, dates, and zucchini, too. She used lard and margarine. She knew the measure of a peck. She didn’t employ the chocolate chip in the same way that I do. She got many recipes from the great cooks in her life, including women farther up the family tree, her own daughters, her friends and women from the church (Mrs. Hird, Mrs. Crabtree, Mrs. Eddy A. Mayer, Mrs. Retzlaff, Mrs. Holmes, Mrs. Klima, Mrs. Davis, and on and on), and apparently Kessler’s Cafe was sharing pie recipes with anyone who asked.
I can see her now, sitting at a table in the church basement, having a conversation with someone who had been working the kitchen during the potluck, then digging in her purse for her pad and paper to take down a recipe. She wrote on un-lined paper in a flip-pad with a red cover, usually with a black ballpoint pen that you had to twist to get the ink tip out. She would write down the recipe slowly and carefully, even taking down conversational tidbits, like “Maureen always used a full 1/2 cup,” then when she finished she would tuck the notebook back into her purse and later transcribe it on a recipe card when she got home.
Here is a sampling of her recipes. Recipes are in the links, some of them quite interesting.
It’s been interesting to pore through Grandma Maier’s recipes, to take a trip down Food Avenue and Memory Lane, and yet, she is so intrinsically woven into my own kitchen. As I write, I’m sitting in a chair that came from her house after she passed. We cook in Grandma’s kettles and eat from her Corelle every single day, though I’m not sure she would be impressed with my food. I serve cake with her spatula. I strain corn with her slotted spoon. Soup, the greatest of all comfort foods, is spooned into bowls from her bright orange ladle. And I cut knoepfla dough with the same knife we used when she taught me to make knoepfla 20 years ago. I felt a sense of loss when I broke her “tea ‘n Tang” stirring stick.
Though I have all these things in my kitchen to remember my Grandma Maier, her recipes provide a real, sensory connection with her legacy. Surely her collection included recipes from generations that preceded her, too. I will be making some of her recipes in the future to make sure I always remember her and that my family can know her through her food. And someday when I leave this earth, hopefully Grandma’s recipes will still be circulating for generations to come.