my grandma: a gourmand ahead of her time

By Saturday, January 16, 2010

My paternal grandmother, Gertrude, passed away on Wednesday. She was just a few weeks shy of turning 97. Ever active, she walked miles a day on country roads in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan into her 70s and 80s; she and my grandfather, Frank, were regular cross-country skiers well into their golden years. She was a gifted pianist and organist and was a talented painter, as well. She loved beautiful clothes and pretty things, but was also immensely practical.

How I remember her most vividly is by her cooking. Her lunches were legendary and all was made from scratch and most of it came directly from my Grandpa Frank’s garden. Beef stew studded with carrots and new potatoes, roasted ham with homemade rolls, the best baked beans on the planet made with their own tomatoes, sautéed Swiss chard with a pat of butter, and to end the meal perfectly, cookies! Her ginger snaps were my favorite. Also sublime were her hamburgers, sautéed in her well-used cast-iron skillet — in butter of course — and her sloppy Joes. Her Christmas cookies, especially her famous peanut bars, were fought over and sought after by friends and family alike.

She and my grandpa were doing the whole local, sustainable-eating thing way before it was fashionable. They ate off their land, harvesting and preserving as much as possible so they could eat well, even in the dead of winter. And my grandpa’s garden was amazing — I remember rows and rows of Swiss chard, Hubbard squash, tomatoes for slicing and canning, corn, potatoes, green beans, concord grapes, rhubarb, peas, lettuce … a sight to behold and nary a weed to be found!

One whole wall of my grandparent’s basement was lined with shelves that held a menagerie of canned vegetables and fruit preserved from the garden (and glass bottles of Coke and 7Up, which were super-cool when we were kids!). Her canned tomatoes and dill pickles were divine and everything was done meticulously and with much thought and care.

Her lasting legacy and her greatest influence for me was this: good food is not a luxury; simple, fresh ingredients, cooked and seasoned well, have no rival. And if you’re going to do something, do it right, cut no corners and, in the end, the results will always be worth the effort.

Thanks Grandma. I love you. Give Grandpa a kiss for me.

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  1. Sarah-a lovely tribute to grandma. we are lucky to have such memories!


  2. Sarah, you should submit this to the paper/newsletter to the home she was at or the local paper where she used to live ! What a great tribute to her :) I think people that knew her would enjoy reading it.

  3. My one trip to the U.P. included Gert's dumplings. I'll never forget them! xoxox

  4. Wish we had more time to spend with you guys that weekend! It was great to see you. That was a touching tribute - very well said. Culinarily (sp?) one of the unique memories I have of Grandma is her washing onions AFTER she had peeled them. I never quite understood that. I will miss the dumplings, I will miss the peanut bars, I will miss the garden and I will miss her.