My mother’s mother made noodles. Simple egg noodles– flour and salt piled on the work surface with just the right amount of egg and water to make a sticky dough. The dough was floured and kneaded and rolled out. I have her rolling pin. It has it’s own holder on the wall. The dough forms its own shape under the rolling pin– never a neat circle but always slightly squarish with strange peninsulas that jut out into the excess flour. I roll my dough to be thin and cut them evenly. My sister also makes Granny’s noodles. Hers are thick and irregular– more like Granny made. I don’t know when Granny started making noodles. I’ve never asked my mother if they had them when she was small. I suspect that they did– noodles are cheap and filling– and, when rolled out thick don’t take very long to make. Granny taught us to flour the flattened dough and to roll it up carefully into a snake. The knife has to be sharp so that it cuts through the roll of layers easily. Then each noodle spool is unspun and laid out to dry. Granny used the kitchen chairs and broom handles. My chairs are ladderbacked– which makes for a perfect drying rack. The little bits that can’t be draped disappear. In Granny’s kitchen we would nod our floury faces reluctantly, admitting that we’d eaten more noodles raw. The ends of the rolls would be cut off in a wide cut — those pieces were doused with butter and cinnamon sugar and toasted in the oven for a sticky treat.
The noodles were– are– always eaten with canned beef. I have Granny’s pot to cook down my chunks of beef slowly on the stove while the noodles dry. A pot of water is salted and brought to a boil and the noodles, dry and floury, are slid into the boiling water. Once cooked they are drained and added to the simmering beef. And always there was a huge bowl of mashed potatoes to ladle our beef and noodles over. (Well, that’s what the adults all seemed to do. The children always had a neat mound of beef and noodles never touching the little hill of potatoes on the same plate.) Dessert was almost always a glass baking pan of a graham cracker crust, strawberries and pecans. It was crunchy and salty from the nuts and sweet and fluffy from the strawberries all at once. It confused the mouth with so many tastebuds engaged.
When Granny and Grandpa still lived on the farm the dining room table was massive and thick with big legs underneath that broke up the space we had for a fort. My mother has 5 brothers and sisters. There were 17 cousins before we married and nearly doubled that number. Now there are two more generations of cousins. I don’t recall the protocol for how the big and smaller tables were filled– only that our plates were passed over to us and we ate without fanfare or much of a grace. There were enough of us to escape the clean up afterwards unnoticed. My cousin, Carrie, and I were close in age and would retreat to the top of the landing on the stairs where the glass fronted barrister case held Horton Hears a Who and Paddle to the Sea. Sometimes we’d fall asleep on the bed in my mother’s old room. It was covered in a white, chenille bedspread. It left strange marks on our faces and arms. We’d wander back downstairs to find the adults playing Euchre and munching on peanut brittle or Grandpa’s caramel corn. His caramel corn was chewy with the thickness of caramel on each kernel. He made it in a turkey roaster and it disappeared at an unbelievable speed.
At the cabin that Grandpa built with the Uncles there were stacks and stacks of pancakes. Thick, heavy pancakes and spicy sausage. Or, in the spring, a huge platter of fried morel mushrooms. Part of a day would be spent in the woods traipsing between the trees and over the mossy ground looking for the outcroppings of mushrooms. My grandparents and my mother were good at finding them. My father and I weren’t. We would be prodded to move over a few feet by Grandpa’s walking stick because we were standing too close to a mound of morels that we hadn’t noticed. The morels were collected in brown paper sacks and carried back to the cabin. Back in the kitchen Granny would shake off the dirt, submerge them in salt water, dredge them in egg and flour and fry them on the stove. We ate our fill of the sinfully rich morels. The delicate crust from the flour and egg melding with the earthy savoriness of the morel.
There were other foods at Granny’s. They were the grandparents that ate ice-cream every night. With chocolate sauce. Out of little plaid patterned bowls. She was the Granny that made blackberry pies and jam. He was the grandfather that fried corn mush and ate a ridiculously garlicky bologna that we dubbed “Stinky Baloney”. The cider in the back of their fridge always seemed on the verge of alcoholic. Their refrigerator was the first I knew that had an ice-maker and water spigot in the front. Although I didn’t like water very much I did love filling my small glass again and again with the cold, cold water. In Texas, where they wintered, the sink was full of fresh shrimp from the boats when they came into port. The shrimp boats would sell the broken shrimp and the excess to the locals. We ate ourselves sick with them.
I don’t remember the last time Granny made us such a feast. I didn’t think to be aware that “this is the last meal that Granny will make us”. She’s been away from the farm and the house in town that she moved to when the farm was sold. She lives now in a small room at an assisted living home we call “The Ranch”. And she’s failing. Her body is weaker and easily tired. Her mind wanders and sometimes takes her to some other time or place that has details we know nothing about. She weeps when she realizes that she’s gone off again or confused us with our mother or aunts. Each spring Robby and I take her down a small sack of morels (we buy them. We’re still terrible morel hunters.) and I use the kitchen there to fry them up. I am careful to bring absolutely everything I need to do this because I suspect that it’s not entirely legal for me to use their kitchen and I’m always afraid they won’t let me. Making them at my stove and transporting them the 30 miles to Granny’s tray would result in soggy morels. This won’t do. They must be crisp and melt in your mouth.
How many times has her hand fed me? How many scoops of vanilla ice-cream? How many morel mushrooms? How many cans of beef? How many racks of noodles? Each attempt to copy her technique is a small payment to the large debt we owe. And never with quite the same flavor.