Cooking With Julia
In my family the equivalent of Julia Child was my great-grandmother Arminta, or Minnie as she was known. Except for a brief stint as an attendant at an Insane Asylum (as they were then known) all her jobs involved food.
She was widowed young with 2 girls under the age of 2 and lived with her widowed mother Amanda. Minnie was the only girl in a family of 10 children so she must have started working in the kitchen early. And often.
She cooked for rich people at their summer homes in Indiana, ran a restaurant and the stories I remember most were the ones about cooking for the miners. Indiana had a coal mine in just about every small town they lived in; Bicknell, Lagodie, Vincennes, and they boarded as many miners as they could fit in their rented houses. And when they ran out of beds they cooked. The dining room would be filled with miners and they used their good silver, cut crystal glasses and everything, and I mean everything was decanted in a serving dish. No ketchup bottles on the table for Minnie.
They also packed lunches for the miners. They used lunch buckets, literally buckets, filled with their drinking water on the bottom, covered by a tray holding lunch and topped with a lid to try and keep coal dust out of the food.
My grandmother and her sister were responsible for washing all that crystal and getting the lunch buckets clean for the next day. The buckets became dented and worn but that was no excuse for a speck of coal dust to be left behind. They weren’t trusted with important jobs like peeling potatoes. Money was too scarce to risk a bit more peel than required to be removed. Minnie and Amanda did the prep work and cooking. Clean up was for the kids. And remember the washing up water had to be hand pumped and heated on a stove that probably burned coal. Summer and winter.
That started a tradition that continued until I came along. Minnie had a notebook with her recipes and no one was allowed to have a peek inside. Her children or her grandchildren were not taught her favorite recipes or tricks to make a meal taste wonderful or stretch to feed as many as possible.
My grandmother could turn out a wonderful flaky, light pie crust. Something I have yet to master but her idea of dinner was either an overcooked roast or something she called goulash. A can of Franco American ‘spaghett’ mixed with a pound of browned ground beef. And then when Hamburger Helper was invented she really hit her stride in the kitchen.
My mother was even worse, her idea of making dinner was to send my step-dad for take out.
It’s no wonder that as a new bride my mother-in-law gifted me a can of ravioli one year in my Christmas stocking. She must have had visions of her youngest slowly starving in my care.
Cooking for me was stressful, I’d been raised to think it was difficult. Impossible to master. Tricky with everything having to be just so or catastrophe would ensue. It’s taken me years to get comfortable in the kitchen. To know that I can head to the freezer, pull out something, take a peek in the pantry and plan the rest of the meal around the main course, then having it all turn out well is liberating. I have my favorite cookbooks I turn to, the internet for new dishes and just plain experimentation when I start a recipe and discover I’m missing an ingredient.
Kyle was raised knowing how to cook, when she lived in England I had no worries she’d languish from lack of nutrition. And she couldn’t wait to move out from the dorm and into a house with a kitchen so she could provide for herself.
Having a gluten intolerance along with various and assorted food allergies means she does all her baking. Cookies, muffins, breads and the dreaded (by me) pie crust are all her domain. Birthday cakes, sweets and savories for tea, are all her creations.
I think it helps our food taste amazing that we grow our own grass fed beef, lamb and chicken. Our eggs are that day fresh and our garden seems to get bigger every year and everything in it is organic. Eating out isn’t as much fun as it was when I didn’t know how to cook because now our food tastes much better than anything I can order up in a restaurant.
I wish I had a recipe or two from Minnie and Amanda to share with you but they never passed any of their knowledge along to the next generation, partly because they were too busy trying to keep their heads above water in a time with no safety nets for widows and partly because I don’t know why.
My hope is that this Christmas you’ll bring your family into the kitchen and share your grandmother’s recipes. Give your children recipe books with your favorites written out and room for their own in years to come. Let the grandkids make a mess with a mixing bowl and a spoon. And just plain share cooking.
Merry Christmas, Candy
Gluten Free Molasses Cookies
¾ Cup Brown Sugar
¾ Cup Butter
¼ Cup Molasses
1 Egg – Or 1 Tablespoon ground flax mixed with 2 ½ Tablespoons cold water
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 ½ Teaspoon Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Ginger
½ Teaspoon Cloves
2 Cups Gluten Free Flour
5 Teaspoons Gelatin
Preheat oven to 375F
Cream butter and brown sugar. Add in molasses and egg
In a separate bowl mix flour, gelatin, baking soda and spices. Add to butter mixture.
Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on cookie sheet 2 inches apart.
If dough is too wet place in fridge for a few minutes.
Bake 8-10 minutes.