She called me Sugar. She was an old Southern woman so it came out like, ‘Sugah’, but that was what she called me…
That’s more or less how I began my dedication to my grandmother at her funeral 4 years ago. I was wearing her old dress and it fit like a glove. I had on her white gloves that she used to wear when she read the newspaper, her lipstick (in her favorite shade of peach), and failed miserably to hold back the tears while I spoke of my love for her. It was one of the hardest but most amazing things I’ve ever done in my life. I felt so exposed and vulnerable up there in front of a crowd of teary eyes. I felt pressure to make it perfect, to hold myself together and speak from my heart. I did OK. I cried, I watched everyone else cry, which made me cry more, but I did it. And Nama would have been proud. She would have had some sort of critique about it, but she would have been proud nonetheless.
Nama was the best grandmother. She was unorthodox in her grandmothering ways but that’s what made her so awesome. She drank beer, she could carry on a conversation about the NBA, she complained about everything, talked too much and too loud, but she was always there for me when I needed her. She took me shopping, and to the movies, and had an odd acceptance of my extreme fashion and makeup choices. Some of my favorite getaways were just spending the night at her house.
She didn't cook a lot of elaborate things, and it wasn't very often that she did it. That’s where she was different from most Southern Grandmothers. She made me poached boneless, skinless chicken breasts, buttered white rice and lima beans for dinner. She made the best scrambled eggs on the planet. She opened a can of fruit cocktail and served it in depression glass. She made strawberry shortcake out of the spongecake rounds you find near the strawberry goop in the produce aisle, topped it with cool whip and fresh strawberries that she sliced over the sink. She always had green grapes and fresh squeezed orange juice in her fridge, Dove ice-cream bars in the freezer and sour cream and onion Pringles in the cupboard. For Christmas every year she would make what we began to call Nama’s nuts, that were slow roasted pecans bathed in the perfect amount of too much butter and salt, and boiled custard that would make you wanna slap somebody.
But I don’t have any memories of her baking, or teaching me how to make pastry or cakes or biscuits, or all those traditional Southern grandma things. I think she just stopped cooking once she became a single working mother to her three young children. She left the cooking up to Lizzy, the woman who raised my mother and taught her things like how to make the perfect pimento cheese and chicken and dumplings. But I recently got ahold of her recipe book she gave to my mother in 1990. It's handwritten recipes passed down from Grannie (Nama’s mother) and Ninnie (Nama’s childhood best friend), and others she clipped out of the Sunday paper. They’re all in her handwriting and each one has a note at the end of each recipe. Sometimes the note tells the recipe origin or what she likes to serve with it, but sometimes the note just says ‘this one is just ok’.
I’ve had the best time reading through it all. And I’ve decided to pick out several of the recipes, the ones that seemed to mean a lot to her, and make them with my daughter. My daughter loves to bake with me. Just like I loved to bake with my mama. I often wish my mother had those memories with her mom… but maybe sometimes things like this need to skip a generation in order to stay strong.
I let my daughter pick out the first recipe from the book. And she decided on something called Nut Bread. In Nama’s notes she says it’s Grannie’s recipe and something she’s never tasted anywhere else, so it was a perfect choice to start with.
But here’s the tough thing about this whole Nama’s baking project… I don’t follow directions. Y'all know that. I also don’t go out and buy things just because a recipe calls for it- I make do with what I have and change things up to make it my own. That’s my cooking philosophy, always has been, and that’s why I started this blog in the first place. But I couldn’t allow myself to do that this time. I needed to stay true to these recipes in order for this project to be successful. I wanted to taste the things that shaped Nama’s childhood. So I needed to stock up on supplies...things I generally don't keep in my pantry. Me and my little headed out to the store to buy such foreign things as dark Karo syrup, crisco, and more pecans that anyone should ever own...
Nama loved pecans. And I know that now more than ever, as every single one of her recipes has pecans in it. The brownies, the cakes, the breads…pecans, pecans, pecans. Just when you think you have a nut break…
So this Nut Bread, according to Nama, is almost like a cake, just a little less sweet.
Spoiler alert- It’s freakin’ amazing…even with the Crisco.
Perhaps especially with the Crisco.
It's just that...almost like a cake, but not quite as sweet. It's really, really good. My son, especially loved it and has requested it for both snack and breakfast for the past several days. I'll be posting more recipes in the days and weeks to come... I've really and truly had a wonderful time baking my way through this book and I'm so excited to be sharing it all with you.
But until then, I just want to say how amazing it is to have this recipe book in my possession. That’s what’s so wonderful about recipes- even for someone like me who doesn’t follow them. If you have someone’s recipe, you can keep their memory alive for as long as you want. And there’s nothing better than that.
Before I go, I’d like to make a little request. I’d like you all to think about the people you have in your life that you know have a great story to tell. Whether its a story told my recipes, or just spoken words. Someone who’s lived a long life. Go find them, call them up, visit them, take the time to listen to them. Trust me, you’ll wish you did when you had the chance.
NAMA'S NUT BREAD
|(technically Grannie's Nut Bread, but I kinda like the sound of Nama's Nut Bread ;-)|
First up- you'll need to sift your dry ingredients while you're creaming your shortening and sugar.
In the bowl of your standing mixer (or a large bowl to be mixed by electric beaters/whisk), place the following...
-1 1/2 cups sugar
-1/2 cup shortening, such as Crisco (I went all in and used the butter flavor)
Mix this with the paddle attachment until creamy and fluffy.
While this is happening, sift together into a large bowl the following...
-3 1/2 cups all purpose, (unbleached) flour
-1 heaping tsp baking powder
-1 heaping tsp salt
With the mixer still on, slowly pour in some of 1 cup of milk alternating with some of the sifted flour mixture until both are gone and fully mixed in.
Continue mixing, on low speed, and meanwhile separate 2 large eggs into two bowls. Whisk the yolks until smooth and then beat the whites until stiff peaks form.
Bake in a preheated 325 oven for 15 minutes, increase the oven to 350 and bake for another 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out relatively clean.
DO NOT OVERBAKE
Place on a cooling rack and allow to cool in the pan until safe to handle, then remove from the pan and cool completely.