Tag Archives: Grandma Vera

Grandma’s Got the Holiday Blues: Family Letters,1943

Many people get the holiday blues.  My usually stoic grandmother had more reason that most to feel sad in December 1943.

In a previous post, I wrote about Hattie Morgan Stout writing to her daughter, Maude Stout Bartlett.  Now I am going to launch a series about Hattie’s other daughter, Vera Stout Anderson and her letters to HER daughter.

Vera Anderson wrote frequently to her daughter Harriette Anderson Kaser (my mother), during the months that we lived in Iowa in 1943.  The job my father accepted there  did not last long since the man who was to head the project changed his mind and never went to Iowa. But when Grandma wrote the letters, she (and my parents) assumed the move would last for years.  I was four years old at the time.

A world at war haunts every one of these letters.  We hear about the men in town who have signed up to fight, the restrictions of rations, the effect the war has on occupations and businesses. When Grandma goes to work in a factory in a nearby town, we learn what it was like to be a “Rosie the Riveter” and you can see how the jobs that opened up for women began to affected societal attitudes.

Every letter mentions my Uncle Bill, Grandma’s oldest son. I did not realize until I read these letters that she always called him William, since he was “Bill” to everyone else.

I will circle back and share all of Grandmother’s letters later, but I am starting with a short one one about the holiday blues. Vera Anderson wrote about this time of the year on Saturday, December 10, in 1943–almost exactly seventy-four years ago.  I believe that we had seen my grandmother and grandfather at the end of November, 1943, because I can vividly remember meeting the new husband of my cousin, Evelyn Kaser. Their wedding took place on November 25. A gap in the letters between early November and early December presents another clue that my family probably visited Ohio in November.

The wedding took place on Thanksgiving Day, so we were “home” in Ohio for Thanksgiving, but but Grandma got the holiday blues thinking that her son William and daughter Harriette would not be home for Christmas. To make matters worse, the war in the Pacific was getting more heated, and William was head straight into that unknown part of the world.

Notes on the Letter

Postal Service

Grandma Vera refers to going to the Post Office Box.  Killbuck did not have house to house delivery.  A centrally located post office had boxes even when I was in high school in the 1950s. In fact, we shared Grandma’s post office box, number 103–which was in the family for decades. She also mentions sending the letter to be on the Star Route so it will arrive “first of the week.”  The Star Routes were postal delivery routes that were handled by private delivery companies, and presumably were faster.  Federal money had to priortize spending on the war and postal facilities and trucks limped along and broke down, lacking needed repairs.

Grandma’s War Work

Grandma writes that she just came home from work, and that means that she worked on Saturdays.  The job at a factory in a nearby town meant adding drive time to a long day.  However she says she would rather work on Christmas Day than stay at home to worry and be sad about her children who were scattered rather than home for Christmas. Her solution for the holiday blues–work harder.

Uncle Bill, the SeaBee

She says she thinks that “William has sailed.”  That refers to my uncle Bill, William J Anderson, a SeaBee. While at times in earlier letters she puts a positive spin on his military service, she spent sleepless nights worrying. The situation was terrifying–information came slowly if at all.  She had no idea where he would be going or what he would be doing.  She had already seen many local boys head to Europe and many did not come home. Now he son would be in this truly foreign area and she did not even know what he would be doing.

She had been expecting to hear that he had sailed away from the safe base in California soon.  He had earlier told her that he would soon be sailing.  In the twenty-four hours before sailing, personnel entered a state called “secure” meaning they could not communicate with anyone.

Daddy Guy

“Dad about the same” refers to my Grandfather, Guy Anderson, who had suffered a heart attack in February of that year. Guy and Vera had to give up the restaurant they had run in their house after Guy’s heart attack, and her letters reflect his impatience at not being able to work. My Grandfather’s weakened condition no doubt also kept her awake at night worrying. This worry was not just holiday blues.  She mentions Dr. Stauffer, the family doctor who had delivered me at the Millersburg Hospital four years earlier.  Dr. Stauffer later rented the small building on my Grandmother’s property for his practice.

Grandma’s Letter

Sat. Dec. 10-43

Dear Harriette, Paul & Bunny,

Just came home from work and went to P.O. Box and got your box.  It came through fine.  Haven’t opened it yet.  But knew you would want to know we got it O.K.  I am sorry you can’t come home [for Christmas]. It won’t seem much like Xmas.  I hope we will work.  We couldn’t all be together anyway so we will all be sad.  I think William has sailed as he thought he would go into Secure last Sun or Mon.  I am all broke up about it.  He mailed his Xmas cards last week.

I will have to hurry and mail this so it will go on Star Route and you will get it first of week.  we’ll play Santa Clause for you and many thanks for what ever it is.  I am going to write you again in a day or two.

Dad about the same.  I paid Stauffer $10.00 on Dr. bill last night.

Many thanks again until we see what it is.  Wish you could be here when we open it.  Must mail this. Lots of love to you all and give Bunny a big Kiss.  Will write more tomorrow. Love,

Mother

My Grandmother was not one to let life get the better of her. Her answer to bad things that happened in life, was to keep busy and things would turn around.  I have many letters that she wrote, but rarely does she reveal getting as sad as she does in this December letter with the holiday blues.

 

Grandma’s Dandelion Greens. Take Two. The Bitter Truth

Foraging for Dandelions

Dandelions, photo by Jayaprakash R

I remember the delightful taste of my Grandmother Vera’s sweet and sour dandelion greens. She would dig them from her lawn, chop off the root, wash them off and cook them in some bacon grease with sugar and vinegar. BACON! Wouldn’t Grandma love the fact that bacon has become the trendy food of the decade?

Since we don’t have dandelion-studded lawns in Tucson, I had been deprived of this treat for a very long time.  So when I found some dandelion greens on sale at the grocery store a year or so ago, I pounced.  I cooked them the way I thought Grandma cooked them. I even wrote about it and shared a recipe here.  But the truth is they were BITTER.

Why did I share the recipe? I was hoping that you might have fresher, younger leaves and it might work out better. I’ve learned that is not necessarily true. It is true, however, that good greens must be picked before they flower. As pretty as those dandelions are in the picture–you don’t want those flowers if you’re cultivating a green lawn OR if you are planning to cook the greens.

Dandelion Greens

A bunch of Dandelion Greens from the Farmer’s Market

I’m not giving up.  Last week at the farmer’s market, I found some more dandelion greens on offer. I knew they were organic–never touched by icky chemical sprays–and they looked fresh and green.  So I went in search of a way to cook them that would taste like grandma’s.

Billy Joe Tatum’s Wild Foods Cookbook & Field Guide, has a sensible recipe for parboiling the greens and then eating them with butter, pretty much the way you cook most greens.  But where’s the Bacon? Parboiling takes  away the bitterness, although it probably loses some of the great nutrients found in dandelion greens. You can get the lowdown on all the good things in dandelions here.

So then I checked on line and found some recipes for wilted dandelion greens with bacon  that sounded a lot more like Grandma’s. They did not parboil the greens first, which worried me, because I didn’t want that bitterness that I experienced the first time I tried to cook them. So I decided to combine the two techniques.

Remember that a large bunch of greens is going to cook way down.  From this to this:

Dandelion Greens after cooking

Dandelion Greens after cooking

Dandelion Greens

Dandelion Greens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a great explanation of the taste of bitterness, how we experience it, and how some people experience it differently.

I found several recipes on line, and combined ideas, but the closest to Grandma’s, I think, was at Prevention.com [unfortunately they have apparently removed the recipe]. I adapted it and here’s the result.

Dandelion Greens, Take II

Serves 2
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 20 minutes
Total time 35 minutes
Allergy Egg
Meal type Side Dish
Misc Serve Cold

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch Dandelion Greens (Organic)
  • 3-5 pieces Bacon
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard (optional)
  • 5 tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
  • dash black pepper
  • 1 egg (hard boiled)

Directions

1. Wash greens in large bowl of water and pick out grass stems, buds, thick stems, other debris. Drain in strainer. Wash again. Drain. Wash again. Drain. Wash again. Drain
2. Fry bacon strips to crisp, drain on paper towel. Pour off all but about 3 T bacon grease in pan.
3. Put greens in large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Let boil 3-5 minutes. Drain.
4. Bring fresh water to boil in same pot and drop in greens. Boil for 1-2 minutes. Drain thoroughly on towel or in salad spinner.
5. Put flour, sugar, mustard and pepper in small dish and mix.
6. Stir dry ingredients into hot bacon grease until smooth.
7. Add water and vinegar and continue to stir to keep smooth.
8. Put greens in serving dish and pour sauce over them.
9. Garnish with pieces of crisp bacon and chopped or sliced hard cooked egg.
10. Good cold the next day, too.

Note

Unfortunately, we can't generally just go out and pick dandelions along the road or even in our front lawn any more for fear of chemical sprays. Be sure you are getting organic dandelion greens.

I'm not kidding about repeated washings and picking over of the greens. After washing three times and boiling twice I STILL found grass blades and a dandelion bud. Don't rush the process.

Don't worry if you taste a leaf after boiling and it still tastes bitter. The sauce is going to cure that. PLUS I discovered that more of the bitterness dissipated after leaving the leftovers in the refrigerator for a day, so if you are very sensitive to bitter taste, you may want to refrigerate and eat this cold instead of hot.

The sauce in the picture is brown because I used Balsamic vinegar. If you use cider vinegar you'll get a lighter sauce.

 

Canned Food in the Cellar and a Heritage Recipe

When I most keenly sense Grandma in my kitchen is when I’m trying to ignore her tried and true recipes–like canned food–like Red Pepper Jam.

Making Canned Food--Red Peppers

Red Peppers for Ready to Make Grandma’s Red Pepper Jam

Grandma’s basement was full of wonders, like the lace curtain stretchers–wooden frames circled with the sharp ends of nails sticking out. During spring cleaning, when rugs small enough to carry outside were hung over the wire clothesline and beat with a bent rug beater, lace curtains were taken down and washed and then fastened around the edges to the curtain stretchers to dry, so they wouldn’t wind up in strange shapes.  

Her basement also held an old wringer washer, long after she had a regular washer, but I remember when I was little and every piece of laundry was fed through the two rubber rollers and squeezed out after being beat by the agitators.

But most importantly, her cellar held shelves of glowing colors shining through glass jars–jams and jellies and “put up” foods. That would be canned foods–tomatoes and mustard relish and applesauce and crunchy cucumber pickles and pickled everything else that grew in the garden.

Corn relish–MMMMMMMM! Apricots and peaches brought summer sun to winter tables. Canned tomatoes tasted like the sun-warmed ones I pulled off the  garden vines, juice running down my arm. How I wish I had Grandma’s recipe for piccalili–one of those concoctions that is different with every person who chops and seasons and cans.

Canned foods at farmer's Market

St. Phillips’ Farmers’ Market in Tucson, Grammy’s canned foods

Canned foods aren’t actually put in cans. They are put into sterilized glass jars and sealed with a flat metal lid with a rubber ridge that hold it tight to the jar, tightened down with a metal ring screwed on the top. Canning and preserving is back in style and you can buy the equipment at your grocery store.

I remember canning time as a time I dreaded.  All day long in the humid days of the end of summer, sitting in an even more humid kitchen because huge kettles of boiling water were boiling away germs from the glass jars. Once the jars were full– packed into the large pans, and surrounded with water, boiled for half an hour. All evening, you heard the pop of the metal sealing as the air was sucked out and the seal complete.

You were in that kitchen all day long, up to your elbows in sticky fruit and vegetables.  Peeling apples, slicing peaches, dicing tomatoes. Then you cooked them down, pulled a jar out of the boiling water with tongs, poured the hot food into the jar and put on the top. It was several days of gathering all the women in the family, or a couple of neighbors, to gossip about somebody’s recent operation or who skipped whose funeral. Hard work lightened by camaraderie.

Of course, as much as I did NOT want to slave in that sticky hot kitchen at the end of summer, I DID want to eat the wonderful food that came out of the jars.

book cover: Food in Jars CanningFoodIn my mind, it was no wonder that canning and preserving and jelly making went out of style.  But I may be ready to try it again, and I heard about a book that instructs on making small batches of canned goods. Maybe that would work for me.

I’ve had this recipe of Grandma Vera’s on top of my kitchen shelf for several months now, trying to work up my courage. I absolutely love Italian roasted peppers, so why not try this heritage recipe for preserved sweet red peppers ? Maybe you’ll make it before I get around to it.  Let me know how it goes. Do you have a favorite heritage canning or preserving recipe to share?

Grandma Vera’s Red Pepper Jam

        • 12 large sweet red peppers
        • 1 T. salt
        • 2 C vinegar
        • 3 C sugar

Wash peppers. Remove stems and seeds and light colored ribs from inside. Grind medium coarse.  Add salt. Mix and let stand 3 hours. Drain. Add vinegar and sugar.  Simmer slowly until the consistency of jam (about 1 hour). Fill sterilized containers [fill within 1/2″ of top] and seal.

[By ‘Seal,’ she means the water bath method–set them in boiling  water about 2 inches up on the jar, boil with a lid on top of the pan for 20-30 min. and remove them (using tongs, or if you’re well equipped, a jar rack) to sit on cooling racks until the lids pop shut tightly. If you’re a real pro, you may even have a pressure canner. At any rate there are directions on the jars you buy at the grocery store.]

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