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Volume 41 Issue 4 • June 2-8, 2011
now in our 41th season

Sunday Mornings at Grandma's

by Jenn Farmer - Chef and Food Fancier

Have you ever eaten something that transported you to another place and time?  I am happy to say, it happens to me all the time.  In fact that is why food holds such a fascination for me.   It excites me to think about one bite instantly slicing through the present moment and whisking me away to the past.  Recently I was eating buckwheat pancakes, and I was taken back to my Great Grandmother’s kitchen.

It seemed like only yesterday when I was sitting at her white glossy table with the red and white houndstooth oilcloth on it.    We were cheerfully drinking coffee with lots of milk and eating pancakes off of turquoise and brown melamine plates.  The tiny kitchen had a window fan in the wall above the door that could be turned on by pulling a twelve foot long cord.  Everything was 1950s style.  The fridge had a big lever you pulled forward to open it.  It had a heavy curved top, and was enamel white with lots of chrome and black accents.  She had a tin breadbox with a big bright red azalea painted on it.  The countertops were a dark turquoise, with chrome trim, and the cupboards were a pale wood, with long chrome handles. 

Walking into her kitchen was always a unique experience.  My Great- Grandma was about four feet nine inches tall.  My Great Grandfather (who was incidentally was well over six feet tall) custom built the kitchen for her.  He was a carpenter, and made the house for both of them.  He built the ceilings and doorways extra tall for himself.  Doorknobs, countertops, and shelves in closets were low for my Great Grandma.  The kitchen table and chairs were also just a touch lower than average also, creating a surreal effect.   The house was a 1950s time warp, just slightly out of perspective. 

In the morning she had her stovetop filled with pans.  The old coffee percolator bubbling away on one burner, on another was a pot of chicken soup for lunch.  She would usually be cooking pancakes in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet.  In the warm oven was a stack of buckwheat pancakes.  We usually ate our pancakes with rhubarb jam or sorghum (a syrup much like molasses), or apple butter.   After eating a hearty breakfast of fluffy pancakes, we would do dishes and chores.  Sunday was laundry day.  She had an old washer that by today’s standards was a death trap.  It was shaped like a round drum, with an attached wringer.  The wringer was made of two heavy cylinders that rolled the clothes between them to extract the excess water.  Old fashioned wringers had cranks, but this one was motorized.  We would pull steaming hot sheets from the ringer, and hang them in the breeze. 

We chatted away; daydreaming about ridiculous things, while chicken soup bubbled and jars of rhubarb jam sat cooling in the windowsill.  The little jars glittered in the sunlight like rubies. The tart fruit, was pleading to be smeared on fresh bread.  Thinking about all that good food would buoy our spirits as we began to tire from the hefting of wet clothes.  I loved those wonderful Sundays. 

Buckwheat Pancakes

  • 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 4 cups warm water
  • 1 teaspoon sorghum or honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 2 Tablespoons sorghum or honey
  • One half teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 Tablespoons oil

Dissolve yeast in a large mixing bowl with one teaspoon sorghum or honey, and warm water.  Combine salt with flours, and add the yeast mixture, mixing well.  Cover and let rise overnight, or at least a few hours. Batter should fill the bowl, no more than half way.  When ready to cook, stir down the batter, add remaining sorghum, soda, and oil.  Mix well. 

Preheat a griddle or pan, and lightly oil.  Spoon the batter into pan, turning when the pancake begins to bubble and the edges are cooked.  Flip and continue to cook.  Serve hot with butter, maple syrup, or apple butter.

Sometimes I would go to town with great-grandma to do her shopping. Sometimes we would go to the local butcher, to pick up some of our family meat that was stored there for us. When I was young we could bring a cow to the butcher, and they cut it up, wrap the cuts and hamburger for you and freeze it in a storage locker for your family.  We would then buy some liver sausage called jaternice (pronounced eterhneatsay). It has pigs head, 1/3 liver, heart, kidneys, pretty much all the nasty bits.  Also it usually contains stale bread or other thickening product, marjoram, cloves, allspice, garlic, and on rare occasion caraway seed (often from the stale rye bread that was added to thicken the mixture).  The other 2/3 of the liver was used to make gravy to be served with the cooked sausage.  At the table the sausage was usually eaten with the gravy, potatoes or dumplings, and her own sauerkraut.  Home-made sauerkraut is very different from the canned stuff in the store.   It is crispy in texture, and is more mildly tart, with fermentation, instead of vinegar.

Homemade Garlic Sauerkraut

  • 5 pounds cabbage (about 3  average heads), shredded
  • 3 Tablespoons salt (non-iodized)
  • 5  cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1-2  Thai bird, or other chilies slit open,  (optional)  

Place half the cabbage, garlic, onions, and chilies in a crock or plastic bucket.  Sprinkle with half of the salt.  Press the cabbage down a few times to crush the mixture.  Repeat the process with the remaining ingredients.  Place a plate on top of the mixture and weight it down. Cover the container loosely, and check again in two days (yes at room temperature).  Skim the scum off the top, and add plate, weights, and lid.  Check again every three days.  Taste in 2 weeks.  It will continue to ferment for a few weeks, and will get more tart with age. The sauerkraut can be canned or refrigerated to extend the shelf life.  Makes about 2 quarts. 

If I was being good, we would go to a tavern that was known for its good food, and great pie.  The menu was half in Czechoslovakian and half in English.  The décor was red and tacky. But the pie, oh how to describe it?  It was no ordinary pie; this one was for lack of a better word — perfect.  It smelled like sweet syrupy sunshine.  It sat pompously on the heavy white plate.  It was upright, with an arrogance that suggested the pie knew exactly how good it was.  Flawlessly, flaky golden crust, light and airy, decorated with lacy patterns of glittering sugar.  It was so light and so crispy.  Then there was the fruit filling; cheerful yellow, giving way to orange and pale pink reminiscent of the evening sky as the sun lays down on the beach, aglow from a golden day.   The texture was very soft and velvety, on the tongue.  The pie was always warm, and the only thing more comforting was when an orb of creamy vanilla ice cream, attended the event.  Unfortunately, I have yet to find a peach pie recipe that is anywhere near that good. Instead I am including a recipe I have had many requests for

Rhubarb Pie

  • Double crust for a 9 inch pie
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 and one third cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons milk
  • One quarter cup flour
  • One quarter teaspoon nutmeg and cinnamon
  • 4 cups chopped rhubarb

Preheat the oven to 350.  Line the pie tin with one crust.  In a bowl whisk together eggs, sugar, milk, flour, and spices.  Stir in rhubarb.  Pour mixture into crust and top with second pastry.  Make steam holes in top crust, and seal together the two shells.  Brush crust with a little milk and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake for 60-70 minutes. Cool before slicing.  Serve with ice cream.  Serves 5-10


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