What is it with food and families anyway?
My Grandma El was many things to many people. I don’t think she really believed she was the Queen Mother but I’m fairly certain she believed she was worthy of the British Royal Family. (Whether she believed they were worthy of her is a whole other story!). Grandma El was difficult, demanding, manipulative, occasionally dangerous, often devious, a diva in every way possible. She was also the world's most fascinating grandmother but, to be completely honest with you, during the early years of my parents' marriage she was definitely the mother-in-law from hell.
My mother was twenty-two when she met Grandma El for the first time. Grandma had reason to believe that my father (aka the Messiah – beware the mother of an only son) was serious about the green-eyed blonde he’d been seeing for the past year and she decided to invite the young couple over for a proper English dinner.
“Remember Vi doesn’t like liver or kidneys or brains,” my father told Grandma. No innards. No organ meats. No sweetbreads. "She's a very delicate eater."
Grandma El smiled and patted his hand. "Don’t worry," she said. "I’ll make a fine dinner to impress your young lady."
And my poor innocent lovestruck father believed her!
Finally the big day came and my terribly nervous and insecure and beautiful mother showed up for what turned out to be her Engagement Dinnerl. Grandma was charming and warm in the manner of all English gentlewomen. She served cocktails before dinner. She served homemade cheese straws. She served a lovely clear consomme. She served an appetizer – something savory baked in a little tin and covered with a golden crust. My mother took a bite, chewed, swallowed, then smiled.
“How do like it, Vi?” Grandma asked sweetly.
"Delicious," said my mother.
“I’m so pleased,” said Grandma, even more sweetly. “Would you like to know what it is?”
"Oh yes," said my mother, still innocent in the ways of the Fuller Family. "Please tell me."
Grandma leaned back in her chair and smiled. “Kidneys and brains.”
At which point my poor mother turned her head and lost her dinner.
Yes. Right there at the table. Her reaction was so strong, so involuntary, that she didn’t even have time to push back her chair and stand up.
Grandma told that story over and over through the years and each time I swear to you she laughed even harder. “You don’t even know what you like,” she said many times to my mother. “If I hadn’t told you that you were eating kidneys, you would have asked for seconds.
Somehow, and I don’t know through what act of God, my mother always refused to take the bait. She would simply turn away and pick up the thread of another conversation. Grandma's Practical Joke became part of family lore.
(Remind me to tell you my husband's Beef Stew story one day.)
A few months ago I started gathering up some family recipes and the stories that went with them. I wasn't sure what I planned to do with them or when I planned to do it but Fourth of July weekend something came over me and I found myself scrunched over the keyboard teaching myself how to put together an e-cookbook.
The results can be found here. A SKILLET, A SPATULA, AND A DREAM is currently on sale at Amazon for 99 cents and I hope you'll take a moment to check it out.
I also hope you'll take time to leave a comment below. Family food fights or favorite recipes: I'd love to read about all of them. I'll choose one commenter at random next month to receive some signed books.
Hope your summer has been everything you hoped it would be and more!
PS: My name is Barbara Bretton and you can also find me here and here and even here.