For most of my childhood, my grandmother lived with my family. With two parents at work all day, I was told to obey my grandmother when I came home from school. In general, I was virtuous about that rule. For example, I was willing to change into my “play clothes” (because that meant I could fool around with water colors without getting in trouble for accidentally spilling purple and red on my yellow school dress). I even did my homework before I turned on the TV (because that way I could usually finish it just in time for my favorite TV shows, like re-runs of “My Favorite Martian”). But I initially dragged my heels when my grandma wanted me to help her in the kitchen.
At first, Grandma trusted me only with the basics. “You need to learn to measure carefully before you can do anything more,” Grandma insisted. I enviously watched her transform egg white liquids into white mountains, longingly observing her hand-blender mastery. I was only allowed to sift flour and sigh.
Gradually, Grandma introduced me to more challenging tasks. “The trick in separating egg whites from egg yolks is making sure not a speck of egg yolk gets mixed in,” she said, supervising every move I made. Only after I mastered that task was I allowed to whip my own peaks of egg whites, which Grandma taught me to use for a perfectly browned meringue on lemon pie. We even made a flaky, tastefully tanned crust together.
I still remember my parents’ pride as I brought in that dessert and Grandma announced, “Joanne made it!” I savored each tangy, delicate bite, feeling the power and satisfaction of having created a concoction that made others smile.
Wisely, Grandma taught me to make desserts first (every child’s favorite part of a meal) before she introduced me to the more time-consuming tasks of main meals. “This is sooo boring,” I whined when she assigned me to form what seemed like an infinite number of meatballs for a church potluck.
Grandma sighed. “You’re missing out on the best part of cooking,” she told me, shaking her head and re-forming one of the lopsided meatballs I had made as I attempted to rush through the process. I looked at her dubiously. “Tell me something that happened at school today that made you mad,” she said.
I remember I told her how one of my teachers had scolded me for talking to another student in math class. It hadn’t been my fault: the other student had talked to me first, I insisted. “See, you’re stressed about it just remembering it,” said Grandma, studying my face. “Well, here’s the magic of meatballs. You just dig into your fingers and push that mixture around and ease away the stress,” she instructed, showing me how quickly she could manipulate and change the meatballs from mush into perfectly round shapes. I laughed, feeling my frustration slip away as I created my own pile of perfectly shaped magical meatballs.
Recreating Grandma’s Kitchen Comfort and Creativity Today
Today, in my own kitchen, as I create sweet concoctions such as chocolate pies and substantial foods such as majestic meatloaves, I savor those memories of Grandma and her wisdom. From her, I learned to use cooking to please friends, family, and myself. I discovered the power, creativity, and relaxation possible through the art and act of cooking.
As a result, it’s not surprising that one of my favorite foods to create (and eat!) is a tangy, tasty lemon pie.