Food is more substance than just sustenance for me. For some people, cooking and eating are just necessary functions for life. For me, each meal’s preparation and consumption is an experience to relish and remember. Much credit for that goes to my maternal grandmother, Vember Christine Allred Quinn.
Grandma passed away on Oct. 20 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. She still continued to enjoy some of her favorite foods until the final weeks and days of her amazing 88-year life, even though she hadn’t been able to think through the process of making a meal herself in years.
I deeply miss Grandma Vember’s cooking, along with so many other things that made her a beautiful person. Meals at her house, especially at times like Thanksgiving, meant I got to sit around the table with her, Grandpa, Mom and Dad to eat and talk. Each one of us always sat in the same place, and my seat was to Grandma’s left, also next to Mom.
Grandma’s passing has had me thinking about the dishes and recipes of hers that I recall most fondly. So I’ve decided to put together a meal at Grandma’s house, and I’d like to invite you to join me for dinner. No reservation or transportation is necessary. Just continue reading and enjoy this simple yet special table of memories with me in the plates below. Here’s what’s on the menu.
FLANK STEAK: Grandma cooked the most flavorful, tender flank steak—and we just called it steak—I’ve ever consumed. My own is not nearly as tasty or chewable. Flank steak has a tendency to be tough in consistency. Not grandma’s. As I remember, hers had a light but very meaty quality to it, with a slightly soft, slightly crispy coating that had a hint of pepper in taste. This was my favorite main dish for grandma to prepare, and I’d still take a pan of flank steak now over any other more expensive cut of meat.
HOPPY TOAD BISCUITS: Perhaps my favorite food prepared by my grandmother was her biscuits. I can still picture the containers of ingredients in the bottom kitchen cabinet and her hands at work in the dough on the counter above. She’d nestle the biscuits close together and they’d join in the sided pan in the oven. When they hit the table, we’d break them apart, and they’d seemingly hop from the plate and into our mouths. They were small biscuits, shaped by the pan’s sides and their neighboring pieces of dough, with a slightly crisp outside and a soft but completely done middle. I’ve never eaten a biscuit like Grandma’s.
GREEN BEANS AND POTATOES: Some dishes are more about the memories attached than the unique recipe in which they originate. That’s how I feel about a pot of Grandma’s green beans and potatoes. In my mind, I can see the glass pot and lid that she always used for her green beans and potatoes. Neither the beans nor the potatoes were any sort of premium quality, and they weren’t seasoned in any creative way, to my knowledge. But the combination of a can of green beans and a can of whole potatoes introduced to me the realization that food can be both simple and fulfilling.
OLD DRY CAKE AND CHOCOLATE GRAVY: This is just a basic cake with butter, milk, eggs, sugar, flour and vanilla, but there’s nothing ordinary about its story in our family. Grandma made the cake once, before I’d ever tasted it myself, when Great Aunt Kathleen was eating with my grandparents and Mom. Grandpa asked her how she liked it, and Kathleen answered that it was a little dry. It’s since been known as the “Old Dry Cake.” Sometimes when she made it she’d cook a chocolate sauce (also known as chocolate gravy) and pour it over the hot cake, allowing it to run over and into the cake. I dare say you haven’t lived if you haven’t had chocolate gravy poured over “Old Dry Cake.”
If I could have Grandma make one meal right now, those dishes are exactly what I would request. They’re emblazoned on my heart, and their memories have influenced my interest in cooking and zeal for how I feed myself and my wife Molly. Thank you, Grandma. I think of you every time I step into the kitchen.