Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Grandma And Sweet Potatoes

I've been thinking about a Thanksgiving blog for a few days; everything I thought of seemed pretty trite. Kerry and I are blessed with so many good things and our families are all doing so well. It would have been one of those yadda-yadda lists that would have bored everyone. Living this life is wonderful; writing about it really isn't.

Then this morning Mark called to get the recipe for my grandma's sweet potatoes. As I gave it to him I realized that I should write about her; she has been giving back to the family for so many years even though she's been dead since 1970.

I loved and still love my grandma more than any other woman in my life. She was there for me so many times when my own mother wasn't. As I've written before, loving was not an adjective anyone would have used for my family. On the outside we looked perfect, but within the confines of the house life was pretty awful.

Grandma was a Locavore long before the term was coined. All she had was local; she cooked it simply and well. Her pork chops with gravy and mashed potatoes were to die for. And her creamed corn did not come from a can. Her seasonings: salt and pepper. I remember helping her make applesauce from their backyard apple tree when I was very small.

She believed that meat was not really good for you but chocolate held the secret to longevity; she lived to be nearly 90. Her favorite was chocolate-covered cherries. My teeth hurt just thinking about how sweet they are. During the depression when money was short she made butter and sugar sandwiches for dessert. I still make them.

I was named for her (Kathleen), but her nickname was Kit not Kathy. She was a lot shorter than I am which means she was really short. Tiny feet in those old-lady black leather lace-up shoes with a short heel. She wore a corset, which was the cause of at least one trip to the emergency room. She was having trouble breathing; the doctor diagnosed a too-tight corset. Got a new one and breathing was fine. I'm not sure she would have had enough muscle tone to sit up without the corset.

But back to the sweet potatoes and the phone call. Mark is more precise in his cooking than either my grandma or me. Here's the recipe. Cut sweet potatoes (the ones with red skin) into quarter-inch slices. Layer in a baking dish. Place pats of butter all over the top of the potato slices (usually about half a pound). Pour an entire box of dark brown sugar over everything and press down. Cover tightly with tin foil. Bake for an hour at 350 degrees. When the potatoes are softened, uncover the dish and turn up the oven to 400 degrees. You cook them until they start to caramelize. This is the tricky part. You withdraw a little liquid and then baste with the liquid left. This goes on for up to an hour. Until you finally have these yummy sweet potatoes.

My grandma had a hard life in many ways but still she gave so much love regardless of what happened. She was 29 when she married my grandpa who was 21. Scandalous. She was the old maid school teacher in town. She suffered from depression long before there was any help for her. At one point she simply went to bed for two years. That gene for depression was passed on to my mother, brother, sister and me. She lost her only son in World War II. She had two daughters who did not live to be very old either. My mother killed herself at 54 and Aunt Jerry died of lung cancer in her early 60s. I always wanted Aunt Jerry to be my mother. She was there to save us when my mother got out of control.


Creamy Silver said...

Grandmas have always been the best cooks. I think it's because they use good ingredients and keep it simple. I know mine did.

Kirby3131 said...

Goodness, that's quite a story. I don't know what part to comment on and yet I don't want to say a thing and just let it sink in.

Blessings be to you and I'm grateful to have heard this story.

Kristin - The Goat