Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food entreats us to not eat anything our grandmothers wouldn’t recognize as food. But just what did Mr. Henry’s grandmothers eat?
Was your grandmother exotic, bohemian, or fresh off the boat? Or, like Ensign Nellie Forbush in South Pacific, was she “as corny as Kansas in August, as normal as blueberry pie?” (Did she look like Kelli O’Hara, too?)
Sadly, Mr. Henry has no recipes from either of his grandmothers. Grandmother Eunice used to say: “If you don’t learn how to cook, you won’t have to.” Armored with this impregnable Irish logic, she lived a life blissfully unperturbed by dishpans. (But she danced a terrific Charleston.)
German Grandmother Mae baked a marvelous potatoes au gratin. She was admired for roasts, puddings, and especially for wilted lettuce salad made with a warm vinaigrette of red wine vinegar and bacon bits.
At Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, in a notable departure from Mother Henry’s rules, Mae served the children a small glass of white grape juice spiked with white wine. Giggle fits arrived soon after. Cautioned to steer clear of the Meissen figurine, children were excused from the table so they could play on the carpet and wrinkle their Sunday clothes.
In her spirited blog, Casey Ellis tells of finding her grandmother’s recipe book written sometime before 1918. It is a captivating story of how a woman’s personality survives through her kitchen notebook, a moving testament to the way identity and food are inextricably bound.
Regarding his preference for the dessert spoon, Bronwyn derides Mr. Henry for renouncing the humble teaspoon. Don’t fret, Bronwyn. The Henry household is not wanting for spoons.
Grandmother Mae’s wedding silver service presents a remarkable picture of the 19th century table. In addition to two sets of 12 teaspoons, there are 12 cream soup, bouillon, dessert, iced tea, and coffee spoons. Just for show, there are 12 gilt silver demi-tasse spoons, too.
Dear readers, please don’t tell Mr. Henry’s siblings that he snagged the silver service. At the ancestral Henry manor, silver candlesticks remain up for grabs.