My grandmother’s name was Emma. She was born in 1896 in rural Iowa before there was electricity or indoor plumbing. Her nature was kind and content; her spirit was resourceful. I was lucky enough to have had this woman from another century as one of my primary caregivers and mentors. She offered me an abundance of knowledge on food, family and farming and showed me how the three interlink to create happiness and prosperity of the body and soul. These lessons resound in me today and I wish to share them with you to explore your own roadmap to happiness.
Plant something every spring- My grandparents lived in town and the back yard was solid garden, not a yard at all. It was a place for sweet corn, string beans, cabbage and ground cherries to flourish and feed us all year long. Some of the plants had been there so long they reseeded themselves each year. Beautiful morning glories hugged the trellises, intertwining with pole beans. As soon as the winter frosts had abated the soil was turned and the planting began!
Harvest your yields with care and gratitude– In late spring we used to gently wriggle the tops of the early radishes and carrots from the soil so they issued forth in one piece. Into a bath of cold water they went so as to assure sweet crunch later on. These first offerings gave us special reverence for the renewal of the seasons. Later on, as we tenderly packed the luscious red-ripe tomatoes into baskets, we knew the season of plenty was in its full blush. Husking sharp kernels of white popcorn off the rough cobs provided a pointed sense that fall was coming. Every harvest was mindful and poignant.
Put something away for the future – By mid-summer the green cabbage had grown to gargantuan size. Enough coleslaw and cabbage soup had been consumed to fill a German housewife’s dreams. It was time to harvest these monstrous heads and chop them into crisp green slivers and pack them tightly into earthen crocks. We interlaced the sliced cabbage with coarse salt, packed it firm and sealed it. We hoisted the urns into the basement for a good quiet slumber of fermentation.
Cook a meal from scratch at least once per day – Daily grandma would gather the bounty from the garden and ceremoniously wash, chop, marinate and cook it up in her warm kitchen. Great cauldrons of chicken vegetable soup simmered while the daily bread rose under canopies of kitchen towels. Homemade sweet pickles were nestled next to sliced and salted raw kohlrabi. Dessert was prepared earlier in the day, often combining strawberries and rhubarb into a sauce which was ceremoniously served hot over ice-cream. In the early days even the ice-cream was hand cranked!
Share food in the company of family and friends – My grandmother cooked three meals a day and when each meal was ready she rang a buzzer to signal we could all come in and sit down. We called the mid-day meal “supper,” as it was the most substantial. So it was with great ceremony that ladles poured, knives sliced, and the meal shared. We spoke of everyday matters while each bite drew us closer together as a family.
Make, bake and enjoy a sweet treat with great impunity – On Wednesdays my grandmother would assemble a round Coffee Kuchen in the morning, which is just a German version of coffee cake. It was slathered with homemade jams and fruit preserves, dripping with delight. We enjoyed it with great relish and never was there a hint of guilt or denial l associated with this delectable sweet course.
Don’t be troubled by things that don’t work out – I am sure Murphy’s Law was in effect in those days, but I never once saw my grandmother angry or flustered over anything. No matter what went wrong her spirit was calm and serene. If she couldn’t fix it then she would make the best of it and she was eternally happier as a being because of it.
Take a moment everyday just to sit and enjoy the crickets – We used to sit under the great canopy of the Concord grape arbor in the evenings. It was a restful time to reflect on the day’s activities and let the mind be lulled into repose by the rhythmical rub of cricket legs—nothing to think about but peace of mind, a day complete and filled with food, family and farming. By the way you don’t need a cricket chorus to do this. Try it now!
During the SAFSF conference in Denver we visited veritable food deserts in the inner city. Food deserts are urban areas where children and families have no easy access to fresh food. Places like The Grow Haus teach children and parents how to grow, prepare and eat fresh nutritious local food. Visiting this community garden made me perpetually grateful for the childhood experiences I had with my German grandmother. These lessons have made me a calmer, richer and probably more rotund person. Her teachings have afforded me a lifetime of culinary wonder, respect for agriculture and gratitude for my special place in the world.
Give these eight paths a whirl and experience your own joy!
12 thoughts on “Gifts from my Grandmother: Eight paths to happiness through Food, Family and Farming”
Great post!!! Grandmothers are awesome aren’t they? These are truly words of wisdom to live by. Returning us to the old paths…
Yes it is true. Grandmothers leave a lasting impression that carries on traditions! Thanks for commenting!
Great Post….. brings me back to my childhood, all 8 paths and what my mom shared and passed on to all 6 of us kids growing up on a family farm. On a hot day like today I can still envision my mom wiping her brow as the kitchen heated up with boiling brine and the squeak of the pickles as she squeezed as many cucumbers freshly picked from our garden as she could into a wide mouth quart canning jar. As kids we got to add the fresh dill and garlic! Great memories. Best part at the end was hearing the jars seal.
Thanks Margaret, In days gone by more people farmed and grew their food. Perhaps we are moving back to that philosophy with the locavore movement. May we give current and future generations these gifts of the soil.
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At age 13 Dad moved us from an urban center to a rural farmland. We planted a large, 1 acre garden that fed a family of 6 year round. I left the farm, married, and raised a family. Periodically, my daughters, grandkids, wife, and I visited with Grandpa & Grandma. During the growing season the highlight was eating fresh vegees picked from a pod, pulled from a plant, or pulled from the soil. My daughters and grandkids (my youngest granddaughter is named Emma) still talk about Grandpa’s garden, its goodness, and how much better the vegees tasted than today’s store bought. Thank you for the stroll back in time.
Thank you for the beautiful comment. So many of us have histories with the soil that weave our families together. Give Emma a hug!
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Sounds like you grew up with your grandmother in your household. Most everything you said about her is Dennis and my experiences with our own ‘German’ mother. You may know we actually did grow up on a full fledged farm with pigs, chickens, dairy cows
(in Dyersville—The Field of Dreams) doing all you mention and lots more….like butchering our own animals for meat, etc. It was indeed a very wholesome way of life and living!
We’re happy to know you were able to share some of the same experiences.
Love, David & Dennis
That is awesome. We were in town and grandma lived just next door so I was with her every day.
Such blessed childhoods we had! I am happy we share the memories ! Melody
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