Friday, May 28, 2010

Visiting the Past

We all do this. Some of us take up permanent residence there and some take a short stay from time to time. A vacation from present day worries or boredom.  The reasons we do this are as varied as there are individuals in the world. Searching for answers, perhaps reliving a moment of sheer happiness, sometimes in search of comfort, we dig through the dusty, musty, memories, and papers, photos and books looking for something long ago relegated to the realm of memory.

The "proper" cook in my extended family was our Nana, my maternal grandmother. She took great care in her cooking, worked with a food scientist on some projects; she even sold her Orange Toast to Bloomingdale's for heaven's sake.  I once asked her for the recipe and in a rare moment (of what seemed like cynicism to me) said. "You don't want it, really, it's too much trouble". She was the Grande Dame de Cuisine in our family and one of my greatest role models, but that's not the memory lane we find ourselves on today. Nope.  It's a dusty trail we're on today. Think Tumbleweeds.

Manny. Just typing her name makes me feel loved. My paternal grandmother and I share many genes that dictate physical appearance. I didn't get the tiny waist gene, though, I am sorry to say. Manny. My earliest memories of her were from her apartment with Papa Frank where they used Endust to keep the dust down on the hardwood floors and they had these cool venetian blinds! The next memories I have are from Tucson Arizona where she moved with our Uncle Bruce after Papa Frank died, because she suffered terribly from asthma and Arizona was the place to be back then for people with respiratory problems. We went to visit in the summer when we were all out of school. (The futuristic item there was inground sprinklers!) A bunch of kids, 2 adults, cross country with no airconditioning. But that's another post.

In the realm of my memory, everything Manny did was born of love. Her comforting hugs, her stories, her smile, her laugh. She was a down to earth, practical, and immensely loving woman; it's fair to say she had a twinkle in her eye. I remember to this day, 50 years ago, the smell of the gum-drop cookies baking in the oven. (In Tucson, in the summer, if that ain't love I don't know what is.) It was a heavenly waft of ginger and cinnamon and sugar. I remember the outer crunch and the chewy sweet goodness of the insides mixed with the gumdrops. I have never had gumdrop cookies since, and frankly, gum-drops themselves don't appeal to me at all. It was the love that went into them that made them so good. I will never try to make them because the experience can't be re-created, it's best left as a memorial in my mind.

Right about now you are wondering if  I've gone off the track... where's the food? It's coming, I promise. In the form of one of the most comforting comfort dishes ever made. Spoonbread. Now if you're not from a certain region of the South, you may not know what this is. I think the making of Spoonbread was concentrated in the mid-Atlantic areas like Virginia and Maryland, sometimes Kentucky and North Carolina. As opposed to the deep south where people were much poorer. Although Mrs. S. R. Dull in her classic "Southern Cooking" (1928) has several recipes for Spoonbread, including one entitled "Southern Spoonbread" haha I think that means Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.  Spoonbread is basically a souffled cornbread, and the dairy products to make it were extremely perishable in the deep south of old.. older than 1928 even. Before Iceboxes.

Manny made the best Spoonbread I've ever had. Period. That includes my attempts at her recipe, which are still good but not the heavenly cloud that I remember. I must say, as this is a tribute to food as a labor of love, our late sister Jenny made an excellent Spoonbread as well. The difficulty for her in whipping egg whites to peaks (even with a handheld electric mixer) must have been far worse than anything I have tried in The French Laundry. You see, Jenny had debilitating Rheumatoid Arthritis, holding a mixer was not an easy task.  As my labor of love, I shall press onward and try it again, just so you can see its wonderfulness. Back to the future...err present we go.

Manny's Spoonbread
(Thank God Jenny had the foresight to record this recipe! Thanks Jenny!)

1c fine yellow corn meal
2c milk (scalded)
1/2 c butter
1t salt
1t sugar
4 eggs (separated)

This recipe makes enought to serve at least 6 so I am cutting the ingredients in half for this post.

Add the cornmeal slowly to the scalded (heated) milk in a double boiler. I don't have a double boiler so I'm using a bowl set over a pan of water. Cook, stirring constantly.

Remove when it starts to thicken and add butter, salt and sugar.  Stir until butter is melted.

Let the mixture cool slightly and add the beaten egg yolks.

Gradually fold in stiffly beaten egg whites

Pour into a buttered pan  and bake at 375 for 30-35 min.

Serve immediately. With spoons and butter.

Try it.
I hope you love it as much as I do and who knows, you may be creating memories for your loved ones.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend, Remember those who died for our freedom.
See you soon.

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