The scent of molasses
The fall spices are tied so deeply into my earliest childhood that it would be impossible to think about Fall, without the things my grandmother made. She had the tiniest spice cabinet, and maybe five cookbooks. I can see the kitchen of her house in Cambria.
What has helped me a lot is to look at the handwriting of my lost relatives.
In her little recipe box are the very few things she made, but, if I were to fix them even once, I could re-taste an excellent period in my life.
I built the best spice cabinet for my kitchen. It was huge! I used a stock cabinet but I had the contractor cut it down to a depth of only eight inches. Imagine a cabinet that was 36 inches wide, and 30 inches tall, but only eight inches deep.
It was practically flat to the wall, and you could see everything inside of it. If I were ever to be building a pantry again I would do a whole wall like that, so all you would have to do is open the doors and you could see everything, but also reach everything without grappling. There is nothing worse than not being able to find what you need in a cabinet. Especially those horrible lower cabinets, like the ones here. It’s all about his mother.
My grandmother had a cookie jar for my grandfather.
I had a glass one too, but right now it is filled with shells.
If apple pie is a September thing, October starts the spice.
Since I’m not cooking, I can write about it, because I love to cook. That is how we met. On the second or third date he came over to my little tiny student kitchen in my little tiny Craftsman apartment on the hill. I was making a classic thing involving roasting and roasted potatoes and I had Christmas lights up.
My mother’s pine slave table and a beautiful old mirror she gave me were in there, as a dining room set up. It’s funny how things move around over the years, or get tucked away. That mirror is the exact color of gingerbread.
My grandmother had a recipe for spice cookies, and for some reason I want them very badly. It’s been years. Years and years and years. I thought, well, somebody in the web would have a recipe like hers, because my fall cookie was always oatmeal, walnut and raisin – but hers were subtly perfumed and small and flat, highly spiced and scented with molasses as was her gingerbread.
My mother suffered from revulsion in my childhood, as related to food. She could be known for leaving a restaurant because she felt violently ill suddenly. I’m the same when it comes to aesthetics of food. I can’t eat if something is grotesque, or if the emotional mood is off.
But back to spice and redolence.
Baked New England beans and Boston Brown Bread.
My grandmother had those in cans.
I made those from scratch.
Lately I have been thinking about my mother’s nerves and also my grandmother’s. But, I shall tell you about mine, in the hopes of making you laugh a little. I can’t, like my mother, face up to breakfast unless it is late.
In much the same way as she was revolted by food under certain circumstances so was I.
Eating alone at the pine table off the kitchen with the large Lazy Susan was where I was as a little girl. I mean like age four. Mother had a cook who lived with us named Francesca and I did not like her at all. She fixed the worst eggs ever, and so at breakfast when I was alone in there, I hid what she made under that Lazy Susan. Dad was off shooting films, and my mother was working. Well, he must have come home and was sitting with me at the children’s table off the kitchen. The Lazy Susan didn’t move, so stuck it must have been with whatever gelatinous mass I had stuffed under it. He was very angry when he lifted it up, that is all I can recall. It had to have been pretty bad.
So, there you have the roots of a cook.
It’s all about the right spices, and the right kitchens, and the right pots and pans. Or perhaps it’s all about the company you are keeping.
Were we ever small enough that we formed our own impressions?
I think we were.
In tough times it’s good to remember yourself.
And your grandmother.