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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Grandma Bowls and Other Memories

My "Grandma Bowls"

My paternal grandparents were both Ukranian and came here to the United States from Austria Hungary.  They met here in the United States in Philadelphia, PA. 

Sister to sister...

My grandma's name was Fanny and she arrived in the United States because her sister Katy arrived first, worked and saved her money until she could bring her sister to the land of opportunity.  I'm not certain of the date, but as my grandma was born a few years shy of 1900, I'm guessing she arrived sometime after 1914.

Katy got my grandma a job in the candy factory where she worked in Philadelphia and together they worked and saved until all sisters arrived. Eventually Katy, Fanny, Tassie and Mary all came to America.

Sadly, none of the details of their arrival were ever recorded, so I know only what I remember my grandma telling me about her youth.  I don't remember how my grandparents met, but I well remember their wedding portrait.  It showed my grandpa (Frank) seated on a straight-backed chair, my grandma (Fanny) standing to his left in her white dress, her right hand on his shoulder. In retrospect, when I think on it, that portrait was quite large, and something I would not have thought they could afford.   The portrait was about 3x4 feet and hung in their upstairs hallway above an old battered trunk.  

When I was a little girl and visited them (they lived in a small row-house in Lansdale then), I remember climbing the stairs just to see that portrait. For those unfamiliar with the term "row-house", in cities like Philadelphia, Reading, Allentown, Lansdale...cities all throughout the state...rows of identical-fronted houses were built.  They had tiny front yards, if they had front yards at all, and yards at the back of the house, usually large enough for a garden and a shed or two.

Today such homes are called "townhomes".  There are townhomes in many cities both here and in Europe.  In fact, London has some absolutely gorgeous townhomes.  If you were working class here in the U.S. and lived in such a home, it was a rowhouse.  The style was fairly utilitarian, and the rooms arranged in what I believe are referred to as "shot-gun" style.  This means you entered by the front door into an existing room and each room on the first level was directly behind it, usually a dining room and then the kitchen.

In my grandparent's house the stairway was enclosed and accessed through a door along the left side of the diningroom.  The door was always kept closed in the winter months, the better to keep the heat in the downstairs rooms.  The stairway itself was narrow, dark, and a bit twisty; it always gave me a little thrill of fear when I climbed those stairs.  At the top of the stairs was a landing/hallway.  

From the top of the steps if I looked left I could peer out a window facing the back yard.  Straight across from the stairway was a bedroom.  To the right, if I walked a short distance, there was a small area that held a toilet and a dresser.  This was the "upstairs" bath, and the area had a curtain drawn across for privacy.  This part of the upstairs was directly above the dining room and part of the kitchen.  Directly above the "front room" was another bedroom, at that time shared by my grandparents.

I honestly have no idea where all the children slept in this house!  My grandparents had five children.  I don't recall anyone telling me exactly when my grandparents moved into that house, but I know my Dad and his siblings spent some part of their youth there.  My Dad was the 4th child.  The eldest, Peter, died as a result of a childhood accident at age 12, leaving Nicholas the eldest, followed by Helen, Paul (my dad) and Anna.  

My grandfather worked at a company (Andale) within walking distance of their house.  I don't remember exactly what he did, but he worked with his hands in a factory.  Unfortunately there is no one left for me to ask; my Aunt Ann was the family historian and she died more than 6 years ago.  Their way of life was nothing unusual or even special to them.  How I wish I had thought to write down my memories of them, their life, and our time together!

Back to the bowls!

I never ever saw my grandma use a recipe when she cooked!  All the cooking instructions were stored inside her memory, and she was more than happy to teach you how to cook certain things (pierogies come to mind first).  She, like most housewives of the era didn't use what we consider standard measuring cups or spoons.  She had certain tea cups to measure flour, etc., and certain spoons for other ingredients.  She used her eyes and sense of touch when she cooked.

I loved visiting on a Friday because that was the day she made pierogies!  It was the highlight of any visit.  I loved to watch her peel and cook the potatoes, mix the dough on a big floured board (putting out the flour, making a little well and then adding eggs), knead it smooth and then pinch off little balls of raw dough that she then flattened, filled with the wonderful potato/cottage cheese/cheddar cheese filling, folded over and then pinched the ends together.  After they were formed, each pierogie as then boiled in hot water until the dough cooked and then went into a frying pan full of butter, sauteed onions and sometimes bacon to be fried to a light caramel color.  When finished, they were piled on our plates and slathered with sour cream.  Words can never do justice to the finished product!  

Sometimes grandma would fill the dough with sauerkraut (not a family favorite) or with cooked, pitted prunes (yes, you read that correctly).  I can remember my Aunts and Uncles complaining around the table when the alternate pierogies came out!  

Dinners at my grandma's house was usually roast beef or chicken.  She often made a wonderful chicken broth served as a soup course.  No noodles or even chicken, just rich, golden chicken broth with a bit of chopped parsley for garnish.  There were potatoes (or pierogies), and some sort of cooked vegetable along with a salad.   I don't recall a lot of details about Sunday dinners, but I know that not one person ever walked away from that table still feeling hungry!

Easter dinner is the one meal that never varied:  baked ham, served with hand grated horseradish, asparagus, red beet eggs,  and Paska (the best holiday bread ever...and made only on Easter).  We ate every Easter dinner at my grandparents' house for as long as I could remember until after my grandpa died.  Butter was always served in abundance, and everything was homemade.

My grandma had a huge garden planted every summer, and we had all sorts of wonderful treats from her garden.  I especially remember the cucumbers and the tomatoes for some reason.  She never called the cucumbers anything other than pickles, because aside from the few we ate in salads, she used that variety for homemade pickles.  I remember her growing leaf lettuce and cabbage as well.  The tomatoes were enormous.  I can still see her in later years, working in her garden. For years after my grandpa died, my own dad made a yearly trip to dig her garden for her.

um...the bowls???

Oh, yes, the bowls.  My grandma had a set of heavy earthenware mixing bowls that she used daily.  They looked very much like the bowls in the photo.  I loved those bowls because such wonderful foods were prepared in them, and I came to think of them almost as extensions of my grandma's hands.  I came to love those bowls she used, along with the Blue Willow patterned dishes she used.  I remember one of her measuring cups was the cracked blue patterned tea cup that she used to measure flour.

I could write grandma stories for days, I suppose.  She died in the early '70s and I still miss her so much!  She had more of an influence on my life than I ever realized.  The day I saw the set of mixing bowls at Restoration Hardware in Westlake Village, CA was the day I felt forever bonded to my heritage.

I could not wait to get those bowls home, and I guard them carefully when I use and wash them.  The make me feel like a little girl in my grandma's kitchen, "helping" her cook.  They also make me feel like a "real" grandma!

Our grandchildren live a significant distance from them, and I very seldom have the opportunity to cook for them.  When I do, I especially look for reasons to use my Grandma Bowls. 

Because our grandchildren live far from us, I can't give them the typical "Grandma" legacy many of us have experienced.  I am very grateful that the grandchildren have some grandparents living nearby.  If I can't be there, at least a few of their grandparents are able to take my place.

I hope that one day my grandchildren will read my blog posts, and learn a bit about me and the rest of their family.  My writing will, I pray, be my legacy to them.