Warm Concrete

I haven’t been outside, but looking out the door I can guess it is generally cool and the sun is warming the patio (and Frida).

This helps me gain confidence that Spring is coming.  What a great time to write about my grandma and her gardening and cooking.  The real story is my mom asked me to write a piece for an upcoming cookbook featuring cooks from Emerald, Nebraska.  Can’t say no to her!  Here’s what I sent.  The blanks are for mom to fill in (she’s good with dates and details).

My grandma lived in Emerald, Nebraska, from ________ to _________.  I enjoyed many visits to her Emerald homestead, but grandma wasn’t living there when I went. It had been passed to her son. During my life, she lived in a tidy bungalow in Lincoln, Nebraska, in a neighborhood called the Russian Bottoms.

The Emerald homestead was a working farm with many acres dedicated to ___________ and ___________.  There was a big vegetable garden near the house.  Grandmother and her kids took care of that.  She grew _______________, and canned what the family didn’t eat during the growing season.  These are just stories to me, though, shared with me by grandmother and my mother.  We should fast forward some to my direct experience, when grandma was in the Russian Bottoms tending a big garden there.

The work would start every spring after her son tilled the soil.  The rest was all grandma.  I remember her planting tomatoes, onions and cucumbers.  There was more, but I remember these plants because some of the tomatoes were prepared into spicy catsup, then canned, and the cucumbers were prepared as sweet pickles, then canned.  Both were the best I have ever tasted.  In the end it was the tomato catsup that took the blue ribbon for me.  Spicy and complex.  Store bought catsup just tasted like sugar by comparison.  I don’t think grandma had the recipe written down.  When I asked for it, she just listed the spices from memory.  I recreated it and always have many pints in the freezer.

In honor of grandma’s methods, I’ll just list the ingredients as she listed them for me.  You can work out the quantities to your tastes.  Tomatoes (skinned and seeded–grandma used the big round tomatoes she grew, but I grow paste tomatoes and use those), onions, mustard seed, black pepper, cayenne pepper, allspice, cinnamon, salt, brown sugar and vinegar.  I never watched grandma make it, so the rest is just how I do it.  Blend the tomatoes and onions and cook them down until half the quantity remains.  Add the spices and sugar and continue reducing until it is as thick as you want it.  Grandma’s wasn’t as thick as store bought catsup, so mine isn’t either.  Finally, add the vinegar (a little at a time until it tastes right to you) and cook for just a few minutes more.  This cans well and that’s what grandma always did. I did for years, but now I just freeze it.

Grandma also loved geraniums. As I remember it, geraniums were the only decorative plant to which she paid much attention.  She’d grow them every summer and take clippings in the fall.  The clippings would go in water until they rooted, then they’d be transplanted into soil in tin cans and placed in her window.  There they’d wait patiently to be put out again in spring.  This she’d do, along with the garden, every year, like clockwork, until she was _____.  Then it was time to sell her home in the Russian Bottoms and move to a nursing home.  Before the house sold, I took clippings from her geraniums and have kept them going using grandma’s methods to this day.  I am looking at one soaking up spring sunshine as I write this.

Grandma’s gardening and cooking is what I remember best about her.  That, and her love of hosting the family’s Sunday dinner.  Hosting was a chance to share what she had grown and to listen to her family talk.  She didn’t speak much.  She was too busy working.  Others pitched in, but she was always at it.  It was accepted that grandma wouldn’t sit with us to eat the huge and delicious meal until everyone was done.  There was a place for her at the table, but it was mostly empty.  If everyone seemed sated, and then over sated, she might make a plate for herself.  Sometimes!

I learned from her steadfast example the importance of patience, love and the joys of hosting and sharing food.  I also learned from her that listening is better than talking (you learn so much more).  I have yet to meet a person with as much love in her heart as grandma, and I’d like to think some of that came from the quiet, patient work required to make a garden flourish.  I think about her every day and miss her so very much. She was one of a kind!

Sappy, but there is no other way to think or write about my grandma.  That’s that!

Mahar’s was open on Sunday (a rare treat).  I enjoyed a cask conditioned Blue Herron Pale Ale from the Mendocino brewers up north.  Lacey, a Southern Tier Oak Unearthly IPA.  Both were real standouts.  I share what we drink mostly for our reference.  I sometimes have a hard time remembering what I enjoy.  If it is recorded here, I can find it and enjoy it again.

Time to work!  Have a productive week.

4 responses to “Warm Concrete

  1. Randy,
    Thank you for recognizing our grandma. It is through tears and smiles I write a comment. I, too, miss her everyday. I feel her presence yet still. I have so many memories in my head as I’m sure you do. If you like when I have a moment and recollection I will post them to you because I know you care. I must say such appreciation of her noted by the depth of your blog info yesterday was striking to me, I had to sit down, cry some and then remember Grandma was never down for long, one of her signature life patterns was to grieve, recover and go on with that “pioneer” spirit that she carried to the end. We all have a first memory of our first idea that we are here on planet earth, an initial idea that we are planted somewhere in space and time, well mine is that Grandma was rocking me in a rocking chair upstairs, singing to me, probably putting me down for a nap and I remember looking in her face, how precious is that!!! You know you and I were cared for as toddlers by her, the oldest and the youngest grandchildren. I started my early days with her on the farm when my parents were at work. The day went something like this: walked to the chicken yard, watched her throw “chicken slop” into the chicken yard, check on the “broder house” with little ducklings, then go call for “Bossy” the cow in the field. She would then take Bossy into the barn to milk her by hand and I had to sit on a three legged stool by her and she would sing and milk by hand. Then she and I would go to the kitchen and one of the common breakfast meals was oatmeal and fresh cream from Bossy. I would follow her around the house doing chores, etc. At noon she would pack Grandpa’s dinner in that white metal bowl with a towel on top. She would tell me to lie on the day bed by the window and to not move until she returned. She would then walk across the field with dinner under her arm for Grandpa. I would sit at the window every day watching her walk there and back. She never failed to do what she said, so of course I could always depend on her exact timing schedule of walking back to me. Dependable and true, that was and is Grandma. Thanks Randy for your love and caring of Grandmaand each precious time we could spend with her. Regards and best wishes, Debbie

    • Thanks for sharing that lovely story. You’ve brought her to life for me and allowed me to see scenes I never was able to enjoy. We are so lucky to have known her! We have some work to do to live up to her example.

      Love you!


  2. It is so nice to share Grandma on your blog along with Debbie. What beautiful memories to share and Grandma knows we are remembering her during this special time. Thank you both for remembering a very special Mom to me! Love to you both, Lana

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