Thursday, April 3, 2008

Celery, Cobbler and Half-Moon Pies

My Grandmother was a good cook -- almost as good as my Granddaddy.

For most of my life she lived in a little house on Sylvan Circle in Brookhaven, next door to Mama Wiehunt and Daddy Bill (her parents) and her siblings -- each in houses in a row. Last week I visited Roosevelt's "Little White House" in Warm Springs, Georgia. As I walked into the house, which is now a museum, I was swept away by a familiar and comforting smell -- the smell of aged wood that's heated up. It's the way my Grandmother's house always smelled. As best as I can remember, the walls of her house were wood on the inside. The house always had this wonderful aroma, especially in the hot summer.

Grandmother always had food -- ALWAYS. I have wonderful memories of sitting on top of her deep freezer (which was dressed with a tablecloth and sat in the middle of her kitchen) watching her cook. One of my fondest memories of the kitchen was the Swing-Away can opener. It was mounted to the side of the cabinets and literally swung over the sink when you needed to use it. This fascinated me. We had an ugly old electric one at home.

Another fond memory was of helping her make cobbler. I wish I knew her recipe, but before she went home to Jesus I didn't really care about domestic things and didn't bother to get her to tell it to me. But, what I do remember is that there was fruit -- any kind, but my favorite was blackberry -- and that was covered by a crust which was placed in strips across the fruit in a 9 x 13 inch Pyrex dish. Then you had to add little tiny pats of butter all over the top and sprinkle on sugar -- this was my job, which I took seriously!

The best part, though, was that there was always crust left over! We'd make Half Moon Pies with that crust. She'd let me roll out the crust into a small circle and then put a dollop of Applesauce topped with butter and sugar, in the middle, fold it over and crimp the edges with a fork. We'd cook this in the toaster oven. YUM-MY!

Grandmother was always eccentric. I think she was just plumb born that way. I can't remember a time when she wasn't peculiar -- in an endearing way. Not all of her peculiarities revolved around food, but many did. One of my favorite memories of eating at Grandmother's came after she'd sold her house and moved into one of Tomlinson's apartments on Peachtree.

The family -- including Aunt Estelle and Uncle John -- gathered for dinner at Grandmother's one evening. My brother, Robert, and I were helping take the dishes of food to the table when I noticed an odd-looking food that appeared to be a vegetable. It was sort of green and a little white-ish and was long and slender, but not asparagus. I asked her what it was. She seemed perplexed by the question, looked at it then at me and declared, "Why, it's celery, of course" as if cooked celery was a family favorite. I glanced at Robert and then to my step-dad, Wayne, who shrugged his shoulders. This was a new one -- and not exactly appetizing.

We all sat down, Uncle John asked a blessing and we began to pass the food around. Each of us waiting to see if there was any way to get out of eating the celery. Finally Wayne buckled and served himself a portion. I watched as the limp stalk sagged over the cup of the serving spoon. Wayne then passed it along to my brother and I who, took the obligatory spoonful. After pushing it around the plate, pretending to eat it but really waiting each other out, Wayne finally took a bite of the nefarious food and began to chuckle.

"Billie," (that was my grandmother's name) he offered, "this is broccoli!"

"Well," she declared, "of course it's broccoli, what did you think it was???"

"What on EARTH happened to this broccoli?"

"Way - ull," she explained in her southern drawl, "the tops looked a little brown, so I cut them off and boiled the stalks."

That was Grandmother in a nutshell -- adapt, improvise and overcome -- in her own, not always appetizing way. I sure miss her.

Don't overwork your biscuit or they'll come out tough as hardtack!