Holiday Cooking with Grandma Georgia

As I prepare for our Thanksgiving dinner today, I am drawn into memories of Grandma’s kitchen. That were her habitat. Queen of her kitchen, she was in command of all the fixins. I recall helping to roll up the butterhorn rolls, a favorite task for granddaughters. Nobody went hungry at Grandma’s house. After the clean up, folks stretched out for a nap before we all drove the seven-mile journey to the family farm for a walk through the bare winter trees. It’s amazing how just cooking something from the past makes me feel close to family that is gone.

Today I will feature the latest publication that will be offered at the Christmasland event with Writers of the Wheat on December 3, 4:00 pm until 9:00, at the Sunflower Plaza in Wichita. Writers of the Wheat is a loosely organized group of Kansas authors who support each other in writing, as well as marketing, their work. Join us at the Sunflower Plaza, 417 East Gilbert in Wichita,  December 3. There will be something for every reader’s taste. It seems appropriate on Thanksgiving to share a cookbook.

Foreword

Georgia’s Recipe for a good life:

Work hard.

Love deeply.

Laugh often.

Georgia Wells Harris was born in southern Missouri October 3, 1891, the third child in a family of 5 children born to George Calvin and Edith Malinda Wells. By 1900, the family had moved to Kansas, utilizing covered wagon and train transportation. They settled in Skiddy, and later Dunlap. Georgia married Charley Harris on November 20, 1912. They raised four children, Frances (born 1914), Lester (1918), Wallace (1925), and Paul (1935).

No stranger to hardship and heartache, Georgia struggled to keep her family fed during the 1930s. Her farm kitchen remained stocked mostly with things produced in her garden or on the family farm.

Her oldest son Lester, an engineer on the USS Gherardi in WWII, was killed December 2, 1942 in a violent storm off the coast of Rhode Island. Charley died ten years later, and cancer took daughter Frances in 1959. Through it all, Georgia opened her heart and her home to family and became a role model in resilience, generosity, and compassion for others. I have precious memories of her hearty laughter, which was easy to trigger and very contagious.

She was an excellent cook, and queen of her kitchen. Many holidays the entire family gathered at her round dining table to feast on exquisite cuisine.

She died June 25, 1990, well on her way to her 99th birthday.

Her meager possessions passed to various family members. After her son, my father Wallace, died in 2010, her worn pink recipe file came into my possession. The lid had long since disappeared and it was stuffed full. Many tabs of the various sections were almost torn off, but I felt a connection to my grandmother, reading those recipes—most written in her own familiar handwriting.

I suspect the file is far from complete as a collection of the dishes she served, but it’s a nice collection. Some I have specific memories of. Most I do not. Some must have been given by friends, as the handwriting was not her own. Perhaps she gained several in recipe exchanges at her women’s “72 Club.”

I long intended to divide up the cards and share them with my sisters and cousins, but time got away from me. In 2020, the year that COVID stalled many usual activities, as October rolled around I pulled out the file and started studying the recipes. Who should get which ones? It was impossible to decide. That’s when the idea of constructing a book was born. We each will have access to every single recipe in her recipe file. Each of her living grandchildren will still get a selection of her hand-written cards, but with this book, we’ll all be able to use and enjoy her recipe collection.

Several recipes were incomplete, listing only ingredients, or confusing instructions. I imagined she was standing behind me saying, “Well, you ought to know what to do with those.” After all, she knew. Where I tried to add suggestions, my words are in italics.

In places, I have transferred her exact notes, regardless of punctuation and spelling, just like they are on the cards. I find them endearing. In other places, I did a search to clear up some uncertainties. I didn’t always find answers, but where I did, I shared them.

Some ingredients are unfamiliar to me, and may be pretty hard to find. Thus there may be recipes that are not practical or useful in today’s kitchen. But they are interesting.

In many ways, recipes are heirlooms. The people she credited with some of the recipes are different than those I think of when I make the same concoction. Names in ( ) are her referrals to the sources of the recipes, but they don’t always match the credits in my own recipe file.  The cookies I think of as Grandma Georgia’s brown sugar raisin cookies, she credited to her younger sister, Ola. I wonder who Ola thought of when she baked them?

The evolution of our table food is an unending process. Special dishes remind us of gatherings, good times, and laughter. Others help us remember people we love who are no longer living. Those we favor tend to get passed around.

During the COVID seasons, I was drawn to the family favorites and felt comforted by memories of loved ones long gone as I shared their culinary delights with my loved ones today.

Mixed into the section headings is a sprinkling of wisdom as Georgia viewed life. It seems appropriate to include some thoughts she left in letters and recorded conversations, as seasonings for the book, just as her principles seasoned her life. Let your mind roam back over the decades, and just try to imagine the earlier days. She would be thrilled if we applied some of her shared thoughts to life in this century.

For more holiday food ideas, be sure to stop by the Sunflower Plaza in Wichita December 3. Visit with talented local authors. Browse the book selections. Find something special for everyone on your Christmas list.

 

Brown Sugar Raisin Cookies

Perhaps every grandmother bakes cookies. Mine sure did. And there was this one recipe that in my mind was unique to Grandma Georgia. Her recipe for Brown Sugar Raisin Cookies wouldn’t have stood out as special to me, just looking through recipes. Though I am fond of brown sugar concoctions, I have never really taken to raisins. But this cookie wouldn’t be the same without them. In her recipe file, she labeled them “Ola’s Cookies”. Her youngest sister was named Ola. She must have thought fondly of Ola whenever she baked a batch of these cookies. I think of Grandma Georgia. To me, the flavor speaks of delicious odors filling her simple house, her hearty laughter, and her ready hugs. These cookies say “Grandma” as clearly as anything ever could.

I must tell you that the mix of flavors–lemon, brown sugar, and stewed raisins– grows on you and it’s nearly impossible to eat just one. I will also let you know that for years after Grandma Georgia shared this prize recipe with my mother, we could not figure out her secret. Ours never quite ended up the same as Grandma’s cookies. However once upon a time she divulged her little secret (a bit resentfully, as if everyone should just know how to do this.) She always baked a test cookie before she put a sheet of them into the oven. After baking one, if it didn’t turn out light and fluffy, she added more flour. So we learned that recipes aren’t cut in stone. They are meant to be adjusted to preferences and current conditions.

Suffice it to say  that the cookies turn out much better (more like Grandma’s) if the dough is very stiff to start with. You don’t want them spreading out too much during the baking process.

Grandma Georgia’s Brown Sugar Raisin Cookies

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Measure a cup of raisin into a saucepan. Cover them with water and simmer them gently while you prepare the rest of the cookie dough.
  3. Cream together 1 cup Crisco and 2 cups brown sugar. Note: I learned a few months ago that genuine Crisco has a component of palm oil in it, which is not environmentally friendly, given that much land in tropical countries is altered to produce the palm trees to meet palm oil demand. I used 1 cup of real butter instead with no detriment to the finished product.
  4. Add 2 well-beaten eggs, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and 1 tsp lemon extract. Beat well.
  5. Measure 3 1/2 cups sifted flour and sift with 2 tsp soda and 2 tsp cream of tartar. Mix the dry ingredients into the dough.
  6. Drain the raisins after they are soft and plump. Add them to the cookie dough, and add 1 cup nutmeats, if desired.
  7. Mix well with your hands. “Makes them soft,” wrote Grandma Georgia.
  8. Drop by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet.
  9. Bake 10 – 15 minutes in the pre-heated oven.

This recipe makes 4 to 5 dozen delicious cookies that provide a taste into the past, a simple, wholesome life filled with love and laughter.

A bit of Grandma’s life wisdom:

“When I was younger and my feelings got hurt or a problem was hard to solve, I would get my hoe, and I would hoe and hoe, as hard as I could, until the problem didn’t seem so big. I used to have a wonderful garden!”

Georgia Wells Harris, November 1983

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B08T85DXDQ/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandma Georgia’s Recipe File

With a sense of blissful excitement, I am pleased to announce the arrival of my latest book project, Grandma Georgia’s Recipe File. A divergence from my previous endeavors–hardly suspense fiction–there’s not a single piano in its pages, but it’s still ripe with story.

1984

Georgia Wells Harris was a quiet woman, but she opened her home and her heart to everyone. Each of her family members loved her dearly. She lived a devout faith, slow to anger, loving through dissention, refusing to judge others. Born October 3, 1891 in the Ozark hills of Missouri, her family migrated to central Kansas before the turn of the century in covered wagons, and by rail. She lived through the depression, two world wars, birthed four children, and buried two of them before her own last breath. A farm wife, her realm was home and garden. She kept everyone fed through good times and bad.

Quilting lessons, 1979

She spent her free time crafting quilts and gave them away to each of her children, grandchildren, and the great-grandchildren that she knew. She socialized with clubs of neighbor women at church and in a one-room schoolhouse auxiliary called “72 Club.” She delighted in simple things and her easy laughter was contagious.

Georgia blowing bubbles in the timber one Easter in the early 70s.

My grandmother’s dilapidated recipe file came to me a decade ago after my father passed away. Though I always knew I would share it someday, the time for sharing was postponed by the bustle of a busy life. I wanted to share the cards with all my grandmother’s living grandchildren, my two sisters and a cousin and me. But the project got tabled, and mostly forgotten.

1971

Then a year ago, that busy life came to a standstill due to the COVID restrictions. I am not the only person who discovered that one blessing of the COVID time was to open the chance to catch up on long-overdue projects. This was one of them. In fact, the slower pace reminded me of Grandma Georgia and how I appreciated the slower pace of her life.

1976

Visits to her in my young adulthood always slowed me down and I relished the peace of her quiet life. Last October I pulled the little pink recipe file box from my hutch and began to catalog the cards. It didn’t take long to realize that there were very few duplicates. I would have to split them up. How could I possibly divide them into 4 equivalent batches? What if I sent the wrong recipes to people? Then there was the valid possibility that maybe–just maybe–we’d all like the entire set of recipes.

The idea of making a recipe book was born the moment I realized it would be impossible to split up the cards and be sure that the right granddaughter received those appropriate for her. Why not make them all available to all of us? I began to type the recipes into word documents on my computer. As I typed, it became clearer how much of our lives are told by the food we eat, those favorite dishes we share with our loved ones.

1985

She had noted names on many cards, to remember who provided those recipes to her. Some people I knew. Many I barely knew. Some were total strangers to me. Her dear daughter, and some of us grandchildren were noted, but there were other family names I had only heard about, including Mabel and Florence Ethel (Pete) whom you might recall from the story “High Courage.”

I became doubly excited about this booklet idea. In addition to creating my grandmother’s recipe book, I would use this project to learn how to format manuscripts for publication. The project took on multiple objectives.

I intended to surprise my sisters and cousin at Christmastime.

Well, some things just can’t be rushed. Christmas came and went, and I was still working on designing the cover with the help of my computer-savvy stepson. What’s wrong with Valentine’s Day, I thought? Often in past years, our “Christmas” greetings became Fellentines. This could fit right into that.

But Valentine’s Day came and went also, while waiting on the printing process.

However, I am happy to announce that the project has come to a very successful completion. Last week, I received my first order of the recipe books, and I packaged up several to send off and surprise family members. The unexpected books by now have reached every destination, so the secret is out!

When chatting about this project in December with some friends, I mentioned that I didn’t expect anyone beyond family to be interested. But some friends insisted that they would like the opportunity to have one of these traditional family cookbooks. I felt quite honored by that declaration. My proof-reader sister asked if I’d autographed all the books, and I replied, “I autographed NONE of them. I don’t really feel like it’s my book. It’s Grandma Georgia’s.”

Spring flowers blooming at Georgia’s house.

With satisfaction, I can report that I did manage to work through the steps to format this booklet without assistance. Very cool. No need to shy away from that process in my future endeavors. And with love filling my heart, I can say that the opportunity to read through some of Grandma Georgia’s letters was incredibly rewarding. I had kept every one that she sent me before she died June 25, 1990. The correspondence allowed me to season the book with bits of her life philosophy. In this blog’s new “Comfort Foods” category, I will share a few more recipes, as well as snippets of philosophy, in coming weeks. There will be recipes from Georgia’s kitchen, but also some from other beloved friends and relatives. Stay tuned!

My heart is full. I offer the recipe book with love to anyone who needs a lift.

Georgia’s Recipe for a Life well-lived:

Work hard.

Love deeply.

Laugh often.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B08T85DXDQ/