Grandma’s Silver Spoon

Grandma's Spoon

I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. In fact, when I was growing up, I often heard adults say that I had a difficult childhood. I somehow understood what they were saying to be true, but heck, it was all I knew. When I first told David, my partner of nearly 20 years, about my tumultuous upbringing, he was shocked. You see, my emotionally volatile mother, whom I loved dearly, was seemingly strong on the outside but fragile inside. My father, who was legally blind, was severely limited in his ability to play the role of dad as I longed for it to be played. Both of them had hot tempers that often led to loud and sometimes physical confrontations. When I was seven, they separated, and they divorced soon after. Much of the rest of my childhood was spent consoling my mother, helping her find happiness not only in her own life but in mine. My father, meanwhile, depended on me to take care of him. I learned to do his shopping, make his meals, clean his house, pay his bills, and balance his checkbook by the age of nine. In many ways, the roles of parents and child were sadly reversed. Finally, when I was 14 and life with my mother and her third husband in their horribly tension-filled household became unbearable, I left.

But there was one person I could always depend on to be there for me: my beloved grandmother. She didn’t need me to give her emotional support or take care of her. She just needed me to be her grandson and accept her unconditional love.

I have countless memories of her. She cut a fine figure, had tightly curled hair, and always wore stockings and a dress–usually one that she’d sewn herself. She’d never go out in public unless she looked just right. She was a lady—a very independent lady—who was as comfortable moving a heavy piece of furniture or hammering a nail as she was making a cake from scratch.

My most vivid recollections of her are in the kitchen. Oddly, I don’t remember her cooking; it’s possible she wasn’t very good. But her baking was incredible. And there were three necessary components to everything she made—her big brown crock; her wooden spoon; and her scratched, misshapen silver spoon, which I cherish to this day. I remember seeing that spoon in every kitchen my grandmother ever baked in. It was like a constant friend or a favorite family member.

I remember Grandma baking bread and scooping the flour with her silver spoon. I’d sit in the kitchen, watching her mixing all the ingredients, and wait for the bread to rise. The process fascinated me, and once the loaf went in the oven the smell of it baking was pure comfort to me. I sat on pins and needles anxious for the warm slice of bread with butter that would soon be mine. And at Christmastime she’d bake me a special sweet treat by shaping the same dough into rolls and studding them with colorful candied fruit.

Then there were the times she’d bake a cake. She’d sit with her big crock on her lap, beating the batter inside with her silver spoon. After she’d poured the batter into the pan, there was always, miraculously, just enough left for me to “test” with the spoon. That spoon was so thin and beat up it was amazing that I didn’t cut myself. But just as my grandmother expertly wielded it, so I learned to masterfully maneuver it.

Grandma's Recipe
Click to enlarge

I recently happened upon her recipe for raisin pudding—a dessert she made all the time—written in her own hand. I’m not sure if I should call it a recipe, though, because it includes only the ingredients. It doesn’t say what size pan to bake it in or what temperature to set the oven to. Maybe we were destined to guess, or maybe just expected to know. I later found the same recipe, entitled “Grandma’s Raisin Pudding,” in my mother’s handwriting. Her version includes the missing pieces. It says to drop the flour-and-sugar mixture into the syrup with a “teaspoon,” which makes me chuckle because I know the “teaspoon” referred to is Grandma’s old silver spoon that I watched her use every time she made this dessert. She’d scoop it into the wet batter and then drop it into the waiting hot syrup without bothering to shape the individual puddings. But once they emerged from the oven, they were almost perfectly round biscuits sitting atop the most delicious river of thick, rich syrup. In my child’s mind, her spoon had special powers. It could take blobs of dough and shape them into impeccable biscuits. It’s one of my very favorite memories of her.

According to my grandmother, the spoon was handed down from her mother’s mother. It supposedly originated in England, but that part has always seemed suspect to me since it’s rather a grand origin for something owned by our humble family. As a child, I simply couldn’t fathom how anything could be so old, so ancient.

When my grandmother passed on, the old spoon was handed down to me. It remains one of my greatest treasures. So far from glamorous, yet beautiful to me, it rests comfortably among our set of perfect silverware. It’s this spoon that I pull out anytime I want to try a new recipe or make a beautiful meal for David or just sense that I might need some extra support in the kitchen. Is it my lucky spoon? I can’t answer that. But I can say that I go into a panic when I want to cook something special and can’t find it.  Somehow I feel I need it to achieve even the slightest success in the kitchen.

Maybe it’s a crutch, or maybe it’s just a piece of metal that evokes wonderful memories of me and my grandmother in the kitchen. It doesn’t really matter, as I can’t promise a decent meal without it.

This essay has been updated. Originally published December 20, 2012.

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Comments

  1. I love this story so much. My great-grandmother didn’t have a special item, but a recipe. Nana’s pound cake was absolutely divine. Sweet without being too sugary, light but dense, just magical. Anytime I was at her house, I can always remember dinner being cooked, and never the cake. Like it just appeared, warm and sliced in front of me. At a family reunion everyone was given the family cookbook containing all the most treasured family recipes they could gather at the time.

    As a little girl, I stayed up late, going over every page, clipping paperclips to each of my favorites, when I realized I had reached the end and never found Nana’s recipe. I asked my aunts and uncles, and they all told me the same thing. “We’ve all been asking Nana for it since we were your age. And we still don’t know.” I ran to her and asked her if she could teach me. She looked down and smiled and told me to come back in a few hours. So I waited, I washed my hands 3 or 4 times, and came back. She just pulled out a chair for me, and started cooking without a word. I can’t remember how many times I watched her make that cake. I always missed one step here, one ingredient there, and if I missed it she chuckled and said ‘better luck next time’

    Finally, a few years ago, my aunt got permission to write it down. She had learned it by watching Nana as a child herself, but swore never to write it down. And on a family trip, I was entrusted with making it. I lost sleep the night before making the cake, I was so scared. And the planets aligned that warm summer afternoon. I knew I did it right, because Nana’s smile was so big and beautiful. I feel so lucky to be one of 3 people in my family to know the recipe. I’m practicing it often, in the hopes that one day I too, can throw away the paper and make it JUST like my Nana did.

    Thank you for bringin back wonderful memories and sharing your story, The One.

    1. Kiana,

      What a wonderful, wonderful story. I love the anticipation you had about eating the cake and then learning to make it. I could feel the warmth and love you have for your great-grandmother, and certainly the deliciousness of the cake. It definitely made my mouth water for a piece. Sounds like Nana is a sly one too–love it. You must carry on the legacy.

      Thanks so much for sharing your story.

      The One

  2. I love stories that resonate and yours did. I don’t have spoons though I do have a Kitchen Aid mixer that is at least 40 years old. When my grandma died I was the lucky recipient. Being a small person I’m not sure how she lifted it. For years I kept it in my garage as I had no counter space until one day I took it out and decided to see if it still worked. With the motor on the dust came flying but after I cleaned the kitchen I made whatever it is I made that day. Years later the Kitchen Aid has ended up swirling off the counter onto the tile floor and still kept spinning. It is a monster that keeps on giving. Every time I use it I think of my little Grandma Fanny and realize that what she gave me was the ability to keep going-through the thick and the thin. Just like that Kitchen Aid. Unfortunately, I still have that two inch dent in the tile floor…

    1. Abbe,

      Yours is a WONDERFUL story, and I must say I chuckled with the visual of the sheer size of the mixer and its journey to the floor! I am 55 years old and didn’t even know they made Kitchen-Aid mixers that far back. FYI—the dent in the floor is just another gift from Grandma. LOL.

      Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. What a wonderful tale of family. I too have my Grandmother’s silver spoon, which I also cherish. She too was a wonderful baker and made the best apple pie; I have yet to find something as good.
    Her crust with lard was outstanding. The apples were from a green apple tree in the yard and I cannot find that variety anywhere to grow my own.

    Would love to see the raisin pudding recipe, to see if it is the same as my Mother’s, which I do not have a recipe for. She usually did things from her head. Some recipes that she scribbled on scraps of tablet paper were also not very exact, as they would state things like a “handful of this” or a “sifter of that.” Difficult to duplicate exactly.

    Oh such fond memories to keep them in our hearts. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Adele,

      Thank you. I am working on the recipe and will happily share it ASAP. So far it seems to be coming out a bit too liquidy, but I actually think that it the way it is suppose to be. Stay tuned.

      1. Thank you so much for all your trouble. I really appreciate it. Raisins were a large part of my Mother’s recipes. She also made a raisin filled cookie that do not turn out correctly from her written recipe. Everyone in my family that made them is now passed on and I have no way to recover these recipes.

        Thank you once again,

        Adele

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