Friday, May 6, 2011

We've come a long way, baby!

I don't really do much cooking any more. I wish I had more time to spend creating in the kitchen but I don't. Maybe when I retire. But I've done a lot of it in my day. My grandma, Nellie Belle was a whiz in the kitchen. She baked the best pies. Family lore has her getting up at 3 am to make 80 pies. Five days a week she did this for her restaurant "Nellie Belle's" in Cleveland, Ohio in the 30's. Standing in front of the place are my grandpa, Grover Cleveland Pontious, my mom (13), Marcella Mae Pontious McNally and Grandma, Nellie Belle.

Here's an interior shot probably taken at the same time. Nothing fancy. I remember Mom telling me they sold pie, lots of pie. It was a time of a cup of coffee and a piece of pie 15 cents. You would have a piece of pie for breakfast, another with your coffee at 10 am and of course after lunch (which my grandma always called dinner) you'd have pie again. Grandma made cream pies, berry pie, peach pie, rhubarb with strawberry or blackberries, berry pie, three or four kinds of apple pie. I remember her lemon meringue was perfect with ever-so high meringue. Lime pie, custard pie....I even remember a pineapple cranberry pie once. They also served sandwiches....always putting a thin slather of butter to keep the bread from getting soggy. As a kid my mom would grind up ham or bologna and mix it with sweet relish and mayo and chopped celery "just like we did at the restaurant" she'd say. There were two soups each day and Grandma made rolls. The bread for the restaurant came from the bakery across the street. One penny a loaf. There were two main dishes every day. Whatever Grandma would decide to cook. Meatloaf & mashed potatoes, chicken & dumplings, spaghetti & meatballs, chicken fried steak, porkchops and apple sauce, roasted turkey & dressing. Everything cooked from scratch. A lot of work went into feeding those office workers and students from the business college down the block. My mom would later attend there.

Grandma is the one who taught me to bake. Cakes, cookies, bread and more. My mom was a good cook. Basic food that her family ate with gusto. Nothing fancy, but everything tasted good that she made. Somewhere we have a photo of me on my 12th birthday with my birthday dinner requests before me. Red jello with sliced bananas, spaghetti, garlic toast and peas. Simple, good.

By the time I knew my grandma she and grandpa lived on a double lot and raised chickens (they sold the eggs), pigeons and rabbits. I didn't know that grandpa would kill and dress these for the neighbors who wanted fresh meat. I remember eating once and asking Grandma what it was we were eating. "Squab," she answered. "What's a squab?" I asked. When she told me it was a pigeon I wasn't very hungry anymore. Grandma washed her clothes in a wringer washer and used a dish pan to wash in the big country sink. She scraped her plates into a bowl for the chickens. We had a garbage disposal at our house. Grandma never, ever complained about hanging her laundry on the line or anything else if I remember correctly. I loved her so.

Our friends, the Meyers, had Joe's mother come to live with them when I was about 5. Joe remodeled the large den and I was fascinated with Mrs. Meyer's (I think her name was Nettie, but we children always called her Mrs. Meyer) kitchen. It comprised of a tiny alcove which had one cupboard with a counter top and one of these beauties (thanks to Christine Thresh for posting this pic on FB).As I read the ad I saw that it was sold at a company only about 2 or 3 miles from where we lived, so maybe this is where Joe bought it. I didn't understand why Mrs. Meyer needed her own kitchen, but many years later I realized she didn't really get along with her daughter-in-law. Perhaps that's going a little far, but two cooks in the same kitchen....well you understand.

I am thankful for my own kitchen...we have a JenAire grill. This is a drafted grill right in the kitchen. I can substitute a griddle for the grill and on the other side of the draft are two burners. These can be changed out for an additional grill if we are having a bunch over. So we grill every night. Chicken, fish, veggies every night.

Perhaps I'll get back to bread making someday. When the girls were small I made all our breadstuffs, yogurt, fruit leather, etc. Everything from scratch. For just the two of us it isn't always a good use of time or materials. But I'm sure my kitchen is filled with labor saving devices my grandma would have loved to have in that restaurant! We've come a long way, baby!


Connie Gardner said...

Nice article Brenda. Those were the days. What lovely memories you have.

Denisehyeong said...

I think I lived this blog. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing a little bit of your history. Such great memories. And seeing that picture (#2) of the inside of the shop made me think of this web comic I read. It's called Lackadaisy and this one particular strip came to mind when I saw the shot of the diner.

Carol E. said...

I love that tiny do-all appliance! I have never seen such a thing before.

Kathy T. said...

What a great family story! My grandma was a great cook also and after my grandpa died, she bought the snackbar portion of a bowling alley. She had a fan base with the local teenagers because she would cook special items for them. What memories ... thanks!

ButtonMad said...

What a wonderful story - family history is great - it is so important to keep the stories alive for the next generations. Its hard to imagine living in that way in these modern times and yet it wasn't terribly long ago! The Easter baskets around your cake look delicious!!

Pattilou said...

Oh, I loved this post. Brings back many memories of my dad and his beginnings as a baker. He learned how to make pies while stationed in Phoenix in WWII. When he came home, he opened a bakery and learned how to make bread--practically at the same time. My brother has a bakery near where I live now and I stay away as much as possible--I could eat and eat the goodies there!