Don’t Write About Your Grandma by Laura Fudacz

17 09 2008

Growing up, food and cooking were always part of my life. I come from a large Irish/Polish Catholic Family. We are very close and have had many wonderful meals together. My Grandparents (my dad’s parents) have made Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas breakfast for as long as I can remember. My mom tells me that my brothers and I all showed interest in cooking since we were little. It wasn’t long before we were allowed to use the stove unsupervised, starting with the simple things, frying egg sandwiches or baking oatmeal cookies.

From a young age, I began to cut meat and dairy out of my diet for health and personal reasons. The more strict of a vegetarian I became, the more adventurous I had to become with my cooking. Without meat, milk, cheese, eggs and other product that I had grown up cooking, I had to find suitable substitutes and ways to make those substitutes taste good. I believe this need is what gave me my passion for cooking. Over the years I exposed myself to new herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables and proteins that I had never even heard of before. These experiences have shaped my cooking style to what it is today. I decided to find out what experiences influenced my family and their style of cooking.

My mom didn’t have the experience that I had as a child. Being the youngest of seven children they usually had cheap cuts of meat, such as a round steak or chicken, always overcooked, often until it was black. She had to teach herself about cuisine from different recipes or off of television cooking shows. One trait my mother did get from her parents is her thriftiness. She is always looking for a sale on a good piece of meat. One of the first dishes she remembers making as an adult living on her own is chicken fried steak. These comfort foods have been a staple in her cooking repertoire ever since. Dishes such as Tennessee chicken, Swedish meatballs and noodles, and zucchini quiche are some family favorites.

Yet my mom doesn’t always stick to the classics. Every Saturday she leaves the food network on all day as she goes about her business in the house. Whenever she doesn’t know what to do with the random product she has left in the fridge she jumps on the food network website and types in the names of the food she has and tries out a new recipe.

When the rest of my family was making fun of me and chiding me for my veganism in college, my mom was surprising me with meatless Italian sausages and being sure to cook with oil instead of butter on my behalf. Though we had different ideas about cooking at the time, she understood that I still loved food. She was only concerned only for my health, always making sure I got enough protein and calcium. My mother has been my biggest supporter since I have gone to culinary school. She is always calling me asking for tips on food pairings and sharing new recipes she has discovered.

My grandparents have been incredibly supportive as well. I have even catered two dinner parties for them with my friends from school. Cooking for my grandparents is a little intimidating considering what great cooks they both are. Both have their degree in chemistry and my grandmother has a minor in cooking. When given the choice between biology, zoology and culinary arts she made her decision because as she says, “I have to eat for the rest of my life.” My Grandpa took his degree and worked at National Starch, which is a glue manufacturing company. He explained to me that everything they made there was based on a formula, or a recipe. Cooking is the same thing. If you follow the recipe, it works. “Its all chemistry,” he says. ” You are changing the molecular structure of whatever you are cooking.” My Grandma works a bit differently in the kitchen. She has recipes for everything she cooks, but the execution of the recipe is her own version. As she says, “Here is the recipe, and here is how I do it.” She may do this so much so that nobody can duplicate her dishes. My mother swears that when she and my father were first married that my grandma left out ingredients when she gave her recipes because they never turned out quite the same when my mom made them.

When I asked my grandma about her first cooking experiences she said she remembered the very first thing she ever made. Her mother didn’t make sweets so she made a lemon cream pie from a recipe out of The Joy of Cooking. She also remembered making chocolate cake with a friend in 5th grade and wreaking havoc on the kitchen doing so. In her college cooking classes at St. Francis in Joliet they were provided with no mixers, blenders or any kitchen equipment. They did everything by hand. In the year 1949, when my grandma graduated, most women were less concerned with going to college and more concerned with getting married and starting a family. My grandma defends her decision saying, “I don’t care if you get married or not, you have to eat. People who don’t cook for themselves make me mad!”

My grandpa learned to cook through observation. His parents were both Polish immigrants and cooked everything from scratch. His mother made the sauerkraut and his father made polish sausage and smoked it in a homemade smoker. He remembers making bread from scratch and letting it rise on the radiator. He didn’t learn some other staples such as pierogi and golobki. My grandma now makes them from his sister Helen’s recipes.

When cooking, my grandma usually handles the kitchen while my grandpa takes care of the grilling. Some of my grandma’s favorite things to cook involve a slow braise in a crock pot. Dishes such as Stroganoff and pot roast are family favorites. She also loves to make comfort foods such as Tennessee chicken, spaghetti bolognese, and turkey dressing. Some of grandpa’s favorite things to grill include hamburgers, hotdogs, brats, chicken and salmon. He never grilled growing up and claims that anyone can grill if they just read the Webber instructions. He also loves to make his famous 16 bean soup with lemon and tomatoes.

My family has and continues to have a huge impact on my culinary interests. Considering our background in cooking, its really no wonder why I am pursuing the career that I am.

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