The Memory of Food

I remember my grandmothers in food. The grandmother I called Gram often had a cook in the kitchen. Holidays were huge affairs at her house, all the best silver, glassware, and china, all the best dishes, all their sons and their wives, and a cotillion of dressed-up grandchildren of all ages, making every effort to be mindful of manners.

These dinners began with cocktails and fresh pink shrimp in the living room. Children took note of candy filled bowls on high buffets and soda bottles for the taking in a walk-in ice box. The candy was not so easy to reach, but hang around long enough beneath the buffet and an uncle would go by and pass them down to you. Hard candies, they were always hard candies. We would have preferred them soft, or say, chocolate, but I suppose if you are going to leave it out like that…. which, of course, struck us as wondrous.

Cocktail hour was followed by the procession into a dining room that seemed to seat thirty, paneled in a deep dark mahogany that had once graced the boardroom of a bank. Between the crystal chandelier and enormous window of leaded glass, prism reflections bounced around the high ceilinged room when the sun was at that ‘certain slant of light.’

Young ones started at the children’s table situated near the window, and over the years, graduated to the long table—which meant that maybe an uncle would pour you a taste of champagne. Food never stopped coming. Grandpa had a buzzer by his feet at his end of the table to summon Susan, the cook, but we all knew that Gram had worked her tail off too. This was how she showed her love. ‘Never enough food for the family’ must have been her motto.

Dessert was multiple choice, as at a restaurant. I don’t know where the Southern influence came from, but there was always a pecan pie at Gram’s table—the richest thing imaginable—served with vanilla ice cream on top. And plates of her homemade cookies passed around with coffee and tea, to top off dessert.

My other grandmother, Nana, was as thin as a rail. One dinner at Gram’s would have lasted her all year. Nana had a funny relationship with food, starting every morning when she would mix assorted cereals to make the perfect combination. “A little bit of Kix, a little bit of corn flakes,” (the emphasis always on “little”), followed by the proclamation, “mmm, this is so good!” It didn’t take much to make Nana happy.

One grandmother couldn’t feed you enough. The other grandmother was watching your weight before you were, but both are remembered through food. While Gram’s silver candy dishes were perpetually polished and filled and on display, Nana, I discovered, kept small tins of confectionary sugar-coated hard candies squirreled away in her little pantry. (What was it about grandmothers and hard candies?). And she never said a word about it over the years as I would sneak in, open the tins, lick off all the sugar, and stick the hard candies back in there again. It didn’t take much to make me happy either.

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13 Comments

Filed under food, grandmothers, hard candy, memory

13 responses to “The Memory of Food

  1. Craig Kelly

    Hahahahah. Ah, the pleasure of pre-licked candies!

  2. can’t you see them, all hardened into one great glob.

  3. margot

    wandering from person to person collecting chocolate turkeys!! card table in the back to keep the numbers even at the 12! never 13. I don’t remember Susan except in the stories. I think it’s time for me to polish the candy bowl and fill it as I want my kids to love food and to honor what their bodies need and crave! even if it’s occasionally a full bar of Belgian chocolate!

  4. Tracy Ahrens

    Loved these memories, especially the ones written about Grandma. Tomorrow would be Grandpa’s 113 birthday. Tracy

  5. pmayer

    I experienced a feast at this table during the holidays when Gram was a shadow of herself, having experienced a stroke. She couldn’t speak… but I remember making a sarcastic comment which apparently she found inappropriate and received the Gram Glare… the woman had presence and everyone behaved themselves while at the colonial manse – children and grownups alike!

  6. MJ

    I got to see that beautiful dining room once ,while your dad and mom-were in between houses for the Christmas Holidays.What I remember about food and Nana was a fond memory of her secret,-putting peanut butter in oatmeal ! I still do it today but it is almond butter from Whole Foods-with a healthy dollup of Flax Seeds ……Also,I also remember Nana always making noises with those hard candies and would bounce them off her teeth.Click Click Click

  7. John Ahrens

    Yes, holidays could not have been filled with more people and they are quite possibly the fondest of memories of Suffield!
    I remember that dining room as the staple of the holiday! Mahogany woods covered the walls and table! Crystal chandler hung above the middle of the main table (not the kids). The sides were filled with display cabinets showing off hand painted tea cups and plates from Grandmas mother, our great but if you entered that room at the right time of day, in the correct sunlight the treat was the rainbow effect!
    From the lead stain glass designs on top of the main windows the sun would catch the colored glass just right and throw out a dazzling display! Which would light up the whole room. It caught the tables, the glass cabinets and clocks with color-an enhanced oomph and vitality, stopping you right in your tracks! Quite the WOW factor!
    I loved too the sound of the clocks! All wound up and set to the correct time! An intimacy of voice had all the clocks ticking away, joined by the pendulums swinging seconds going by!
    Once I told grandpa I loved the sound of the grandfather clock, he smiled and told me sometime it was the little guys that talk! In fact the clock that he thought had the sweetest sound was a little Seth Thomas that sat by the bowls of hard candy’s!
    I remember Grandpa’s balance-He could stand on one foot putting a rubber boot over his shoe on the other foot! Dad and I would stand on either side at the ready to catch him incase he fell! He never did! I think he wondered why we stood by!
    He always said that one had to do an hours worth of work/ exercise everyday! He reminded me that our last name as Ahrens and that came with responsibilities!
    Oh yes, food there was a lot! Grandpa never changed his breakfast, he had, toast, eggs & bacon with coffee everyday! At diner he drank scotch from a shot glass with a tiny silver spoon!
    What remarkable room, full of people, of home and memories!

  8. Trent Copland

    Your post is delightful Kim, a panoramic portrait of the family feast. The comments from those I do not know, but would love to, are equally compelling, revealing and most complementary.

    Your close caught me by surprise, laughing, rereading and laughing again. Did you plan this from the beginning or did it just fall into place?

    Your opening paragragh, two rather short declaratives or statements of fact followed by an beautifully crafted sentence that paints the portriat of the family feast for me. The cotillion, you so eloquently say. Tallest to shortest, shortest to tallest, or how was it? And, always mindful of manners.

    It is an adult perspective, but one that dips in and out and ducks just under the perspective of your childhood. I very young childhood I believe.

    The third paragraph, a description made all the more pleasant by the sounds of the c’s and es’s in the words you choose.

    My wife and I were caretakers for a couple of years on the Seventeen Mile Drive in Pebble Beach. “Villa Felice,” 10,000 sq. ft. right on the ocean and just down from the Crocker Mansion. The owners went to England. Imagine the hoots we shared when one of us accidentally stepped on the buzzer beneath the carpet in the large dining room that sounded in the kitchen, for the first time, and everytime thereafter when showing friends or guests through.

    The contrast of Nana, just as loving, but perhaps more personal. No cotillion there. I wonder how the post would sound if you reversed their order of introduction? Not so good I guess and certainly without the laughs and licks of your childhood.

    You’ve appealed, as you’ve said, to all my senses. Perhaps my common one as well. To brave a look at your diction, tone, syntax etc. is all intended as praise of your writing. Praise and admiration, cousin, sister? Any and all mistakes are embarrassments of my own making.

    Alexander Finn

  9. Lynn Dunn

    Kim, thanks for sharing your memories and family traditions in a way that makes me feel like I am there.

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