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Eating Her Words

The interview with my grandmother was postponed. One of my aunts had the opportunity to go visit my grandmother and because my mother goes so often, she's happy to give another sibling the chance to visit. (Better than doubling up and then leaving my grandmother un-visited for a weekend.)

So, to tide myself over, I've been looking for recipes of my grandmother's.... clues to what kind of cook she was, what family meals were like, how she made 3 meals a day happen 365 for a husband and 8 children. As a side note, I keep meaning to read the following books, but haven't done it yet. Anyone read them?

  • A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove: A History of American Women Told through Food, Recipes, and Remembrances ~ Laura Schenone
  • Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote ~ Janet Theophano
Back to my grandmother... I found several of her recipes in a little book published by the Catholic Daughters of America (no publication date,) The recipes do not seem Czech-influenced, but rather 1950s American housewife, which she was, of course. My grandmother's contributions were stuffed steak, chocolate icing, lemon poundcake, baked fish, and something called garlic sticks. The recipes themselves aren't particularly telling, except that she possessed skill in the kitchen to be able to bake from scratch and cook a whole fish. And she wasn't averse to using Chex Mix and canned biscuits in the same recipe.

So, I queried my aunts and uncles by email about the stuffed steak recipe specifically because one of them had told me his family made it for their Christmas Eve meal. I got the following responses. The first thing the responses tell me - you can't do fieldwork by email.

"Jerrilyn [my aunt] always used a tenderized round steak for that particular recipe. She made stuffing using celery, onion and bread cubes along with chicken broth. She folded the steak over the stuffing and then laid slices of bacon over the top. It really was very good and was a favorite of my family. I will tell you how to make the hominy, although I am sure Datu [my grandmother] will share her recipe with you. Another dish that I still make on occasion is Swiss steak. I will be in touch.. " Aunt Alice

"The only one that I can remember is the stuffed steak. She always used round steak instead of tenderloin though. We have cooked this quite a few times, but not in the last few years. It is VERY good, but rich in fats and carbs, which I should avoid." Uncle Joe
"I definitely remember the stuffed tenderloin (one of my favorites). Your dad and I still make it occasionally. I also remember mother serving hominy, but I’d have to read the recipe to jog my memory. Paw Paw [my grandfather] loved baked fish (he went fishing a lot with his friends), so I do remember eating it baked (especially on Christmas Eve)." Mom
What I've written so far brings up so many tangents to write about... what I'm hoping to find when I look for recipes in print attributed to her; how the recipes don't mean much to me unless someone remembers eating them and can relay to me something about the context in which they were enjoyed (or hated); how a recipe lasts generations; and how one has to be talking to a relative in person (or at least on the phone) about thier memories to really dig deep. Which was the impetus for the class I proposed to UT about interviewing relatives about food memories.
The blog's already come full circle and I've only done 4 posts. More on what I was going to teach in the class in upcoming posts.


  1. I especially remember some of those recipes when I stayed with Datu and Paw Paw after the car accident. She also made chicken and dumplings and ruffling soup. They provided me such comfort during such a difficult time in my life.


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