Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My Granny's legacy in me

My beloved 90 year old Granny isn't doing very well right now. It's her time, she's wanted to go for years instead of facing this ever-increasing nightmare of Alzheimer's and dependency, but her body isn't fully cooperating. She was brought into the hospital the other day with an oxygen level of 45 (how is that even compatible with life?!?) and has to go from there to a nursing home under hospice care since she's too medically fragile for my mom to care for her.

I could write for hours about her physical and emotional strength, how she's my hero, how she has always been my one completely reliable source for absolutely unconditional love, but this is my local foods blog. So where does she fit in?

I grew up military, and for a while I thought that military people that move a lot don't have gardens but normal people do. My granny (by herself) tilled, planted, maintained and harvested from a garden every year that supplied the majority of her produce for the year: She always had a huge L-shaped garden that my mom confirmed was about 100' by 25' with an L of another 25' or more, so we're talking over 3000 sq ft of garden. She froze many things in her big chest freezer, and her pantry shelves were filled with the results of her yearly canning: beans, beets, pickles, tomatoes, applebutter. I still can't pass by a farmer's market vendor who has mason jars of pickled beets without buying some, but they're never as good as hers.

My Granny expressed her love for us through foods. My cousin Cindi and I would traipse through the woods in the summer, trying to force ourselves to bring home at least as many huge ripe blackberries as we ate. We endured being then stripped down and inspected for ticks then tossed into a tub to which bleach was added since that supposedly dealt with any chiggers that might have hitched a ride. But after all that, we could count on a dessert of blackberry "coblet" (my young-childhood word for cobbler, which became the family term for that delightful dish) with a dollop of whipped or just regular cream.

Breakfasts were an orchestra of foods: Eggs from farmer neighbors (since she stopped keeping her own chickens when she had to start working in the factory), sausage and bacon, biscuits, honey still on the comb from the local beekeeper, sausage gravy, sliced of exquisitely juicy cantaloupe in season, slices of intensely red tomatoes.

It was from her I first learned the difference between the canned corn my mother served and an ear of sweet corn picked minutes before it hit the pot, the breathtaking flavor of a perfectly ripe just picked tomato, all the flavors and smells from her garden.

Realistically I'll never have a garden that large. I won't learn to can; at best I'll learn something of the art of freezing to keep a winter's worth of food in stock. I'll grow increasingly dependent on Farmer Tim to keep me supplied with local fresh foods. I'll try a few new things each year in my garden - perhaps, next year, some berries - but I'm realistic enough to know that may things I try to grow will simply flop.

But what I wish she could know is that her love for feeding her family, starting from wanting to grow the foods herself (or at least know where they came from) through the joys of cooking then sitting down with us to eat, was passed on to me.

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