Monday through Saturday, breakfast was pretty ordinary. It was nutritious but simple. There might be steaming hot oatmeal with brown sugar; or creamy Cream of Wheat with maple sugar; or hot buttered toast and scrambled eggs with orange juice.
But Sunday was different. On Sundays, Grandma Lee really went to town in the kitchen. This was a certainty and we all anticipated it; Grandpa and me and my siblings if they were there. I hopped out of bed on Sundays, washed my face, brushed my teeth, jumped into the clothes I had lain out and left neatly folded on my chair the night before, and hurried to help Grandma Lee. I loved the smell of coffee that always tantalized my senses on Sunday morning. I wasn’t allowed to have any, but I sure loved the smell of it.
“Good morning, Miss Prissy,” Grandma greeted me with a smile and a hug. “Ready to get started?” Boy was I ready! Because, at the very least, I knew we were having buttermilk pancakes, sometimes with blueberries in them; other times topped with strawberries and whipped cream. In that case, Grandma made her own strawberry sauce and whipped her own cream into the fluffy dollops that she heaped on top of it. Sometimes, it was a pan of the flakiest, melt-in-your mouth biscuits you could imagine, served with thick slices of bacon or homemade sausage patties along with piles of home fries or country fried potatoes. Sometimes, what Grandma served depended on the season because this was the only time certain ingredients became available. Like, in autumn, plain pancakes would turn into pumpkin pancakes with real maple syrup. Closer to Thanksgiving, breakfast could easily be a specialty breakfast casserole that only Grandma made consisting of beef hot links, potatoes, bell peppers, eggs and cheese, baked in a butter and cream sauce and topped with bread crumbs from two day old bread or leftover biscuits or rolls that Grandma crushed herself between layers of waxed paper. Oh my God! The memory has me salivating!
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As much as I loved all of these dishes, I absolutely lived for the Sunday after Thanksgiving. That’s when Grandma would cut thick slices from the leftover ham. Then she’d melt a generous portion of butter in a skillet and put the ham slices in. After they browned a little bit, she would add the onion rings of one yellow onion and begin to allow the onion to brown in the butter that was still browning the ham slices. Oh, my stars! The scent of this dish drove everybody out of bed if they were still in it! After the ham and onion were just the right shade of brown, Grandma would mix some flour and water in a glass. I can’t tell you the exact measurements because Grandma didn’t measure. Her hands just seemed to know how much. In later years when I asked her how she knew how much of stuff to use, she said, “I just feel it, Baby.” A good guesstimate of measure would be about two heaping tablespoons of lour to a full glass of water. Into this, she would add salt and pepper to taste, again, without measuring. She would pour this seasoned flour water into the skillet with the browned ham and onions and butter where first it bubbled furiously and then settled down into a caramel colored gravy that you simply have to experience for yourself. Let me tell you, Grandpa Silas, who normally steered pretty clear of the kitchen, couldn’t keep out of it when Grandma was making this! She served this heavenly concoction over hot grits and/or hush puppies. There was always fresh fruit on the side and with this dish, the beverage was Grandma’s own creation that we called “Ahhh Drink.” We called it this because Grandpa always let out a satisfied ahhh sound after he downed a glass full. It was a mix of sun tea brewed in the sun the previous day, To this she would add fresh lime and lemon juice and crushed cherries. This would refrigerate overnight, Just before serving she strained the liquid through cheesecloth into a pitcher, added sugar and served over crushed ice. Without fail, Grandpa would stuff himself and end up snoozed out on the sofa for most of the rest of the day.
And. as if all of this was not heaven enough, Sunday Breakfast was served outdoors, weather permitting. Grandma’s house had a porch that wound all the way around the house, and on the back end she stowed a folding table. On Sunday morning, while the women folk were cooking, Grandpa Silas and my brother, Wilton, if he was there, would set up the table and bring out the extra chairs from the shed. Somehow, Grandma found the time to lay the cloth and set the table without burning anything that was cooking.. Then she’d set out the food. Mmmmm! I can smell it now. My guess is our Sunday breakfast could be smelled for a mile around! Then we’d all gather around the table and feast with the sounds of nature all around. We’d breathe heavenly fresh air, feel the sun on our faces and enjoy glorious morning birdsong. We’d talk and we’d laugh and Grandpa would tell jokes that weren’t funny but everybody laughed anyway.
And it was all so very wonderful. This heaping helping of family time. Thank you so much, Grandma Lee for these wonderful memories of Sunday Breakfast at your house.
And I would feel so proud, because I had helped prepare everything; helped to make this wonderful time happen In this and many other ways, I came to be the very honored beneficiary of Grandma’s culinary expertise in the kitchen. She never went to an official cooking school; she learned, as I was learning, from the elders of her life as she was growing up. I fear this is a tradition that is steadily being lost on today’s generations, more and more every year. I fear the packaged and prepared foods have seduced us into dietary habits that are robbing us of necessary fresh ingredients in the foods we eat to nourish our bodies and promote good health. I fear we are overloading our bodies with preservatives used to keep packaged foods sell-able for long periods of time. I am aware of the convenience of these foods, especially given the driven pace of our lives today and I know many cannot cook like Grandma Lee did if for no other reason than they simply don’t have the time. But I’m thinking that perhaps a comfortable medium can be reached with simple little changes if an effort is sincerely made.
For instance, I’d like to share a recipe with you now that might eliminate commercially prepared pancake syrup from your pantry if you give it a try. Grandma Lee also made her own syrup to accompany her buttermilk pancakes. It was simple and easy and incredibly delicious and contains not a single chemical or preservative as it is made and used fresh. Take:
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Two cups golden brown sugar firmly packed.
1 and 3/4 cups water
Place these in a medium saucepan, stir together over medium heat and allow to come to a boil, stirring constantly. When the mixture begins boiling and sending large bubbles to the surface, reduce heat and simmer gently for two or three minutes, then remove the pot from the stove. Add a dash of salt, a pat of butter and stir in. Lastly, a teaspoon of vanilla extract (Grandma made her own extracts, but that’s a story for another day.) And that’s it!
Let me know what you think if you give it a try.
See you next week for blog #3, entitled, The Rocking Chair.