I still miss my Grandma Vierling, especially this time of year. Grandma lived in St. Louis County. We called it the country then. Woods and blackberry patches surrounded her one-acre yard. Most of her backyard was a garden and she loved grubbing in it.
About now, the tomatoes would be ripe, and she’d have a row of them ripening on the kitchen window. The cucumber vines would be running wild. Strawberry season was nearly over, but the peaches, Concord grapes and blackberries would be ready soon.
And Grandma would be in the kitchen, canning, pickling and preserving all her home-grown food. She was a southern cook, with a gift for making cheap cuts of meat tender. Sunday dinner had two meats, mashed potatoes and gravy, and vegetables boiled to mush. They grew in dirt, and Grandma didn’t trust them unless they were safely boiled.
But her table sparkled with cut-glass dishes holding cha-cha relish made from her tomatoes, homemade bread-and-butter pickles, and at least three kinds of jelly or jam: grape, blackberry and strawberry. Dessert was often peach pie made with the peaches Grandma put up herself. They tasted like a warm summer afternoon even in dead December.
Frances Vierling was a classic grandma, five feet tall with crinkly gray hair, a round figure, welcoming arms and a generous lap. I wanted to cook like her.
She wanted me to finish college. Grandma went to work in a factory after the fourth grade and had an almost religious respect for a degree.
I worshipped her food.
Grandma never used a recipe or a measuring cup. She cooked from memory. I’d watch her take a hand fulls of flour, add a pinch of this and a shake of that and produce another mouth-watering meal.
I tried to duplicate it, but I guess I had bigger hands. I could never duplicate her results. Maybe there was a reason her big old porcelain stove was called Magic Chef.
Her biscuits were legendary – warm buttered clouds.
"At least show me how to make biscuits," I begged her. "Give me your recipe."
"You want a recipe?" she asked. She pulled a big yellow box of Bisquick out of her pantry and plopped it on the kitchen table.
"There’s your family recipe. Don’t waste your time cooking. Go to college."
NOTE: WXEL host Ann Bocock interviewed me for her show, "Between the Covers." Check out the PBS TV station interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YixLfnDNcBQ&feature=youtu.be. You can also enjoy the interview with our own Hank Phillippi Ryan on the same site.