I had two wonderful grandmothers, both of whom provided me with very different outlooks on life. They were like night and day in most respects but they shared one thing other than their love for me: they gave freely of themselves, providing both life skills and memories that I cherish and carry deep inside. Today, I was reminded of this as I plated a simple jam tart on a fancy Fitz & Floyd dessert dish.
Both women had suffered through the Great Depression, my Granny on a farm in rural Nebraska, my Nana in the middle of urban San Francisco. Both ended up living in the same California suburb.
Granny (of rural Nebraska) had married 3 times, was independent, loved fancy antique furnishings, nice jewelry, and beautiful silk blouses and wool suits (which took up the whole of a 2nd bedroom). She ran her own tax business, frequented the horse races, and regularly threw little soirees for her gal pals. In the kitchen she was a whiz with a pressure cooker, made her own noodles, and was best known for her crab potato salad.
Nana was married to the same man for 52 years (and when my Papa died it was the first time she had ever lived on her own), always thought of others before herself, and lived a spartan existence, primarily in a small 35-foot trailer that she kept immaculately clean inside and out. Her clothes did not fill one whole closet, she worked odd jobs in between raising first her own two children and then helping with my brother and me. She cooked simply, dishes like pot roast, liver and onions, poached fish.
When each had to move out of their home, it took me less than one day to clear out my Nana’s small one-bedroom apartment, even though she had lived there for 20 years. It took me the better part of 6 months to clear my Granny’s two bedroom house (along with several other relatives), where she had lived for 35 years. I had long suspected my Granny was a hoarder, a common result of living through the Depression, but I had no idea the extent. A painful experience.
Both of my grandmothers had a hand in shaping my culinary talents, for which I am immensely grateful. They also had a significant hand in my development into an adult. My degree in social work, my constant need to “mother,” to help, to provide love and guidance comes straight from my Nana, probably the most selfless person I have ever known or ever will know. My love of shoes and good clothes is courtesy of my Granny, along with my penchant for antiques and the joy of serving food on beautiful china. Which brings me full circle….
Today I was making fruit tarts for Sunday dinner. I had extra pie dough left and immediately rolled it out and stamped out big scalloped circles, filled them with a dollop of my homemade plum jam and made little jam tarts, just like my nana would do for me when I was a child. After they had baked, I pulled out a china dish to serve them upon and realized that both my grandmothers were represented there, right in front of me, evoking a smile, a tear and a flood of memories. A simple tart served on a fancy plate, my Nana and Granny side by side.