Updated: Aug 1
If you ask anyone in my family what was the thing that Grandma loved to do most, and the answer given would be baking. My grandma was not a professional baker, she did not go to culinary school, and she never worked in a bakery, but she made some amazing things. If I close my eyes and think back to her baking bread, I can nearly smell it. The aroma of fresh homemade bread, right out of the oven is amazing, especially when topped with her homemade strawberry jam. My grandma made coffee-can bread, which is bread baked in a re-purposed coffee can instead of a loaf pan, and she loved giving the bread to everyone in the family. I thought that my grandma was the only person to make bread in an old coffee can, until I stumbled upon an article a few years ago about coffee can bread! If you type "coffee can bread" into google, dozens of recipes will pop up.
My grandma loved to bake so much, that every Christmas she gave every family/household a paper grocery bag full of baked goodies. Grandma had 6 children and 15 grandchildren; I cannot even imagine how much time she spent in the kitchen baking everything. Items guaranteed to be inside the bag each year included peanut brittle, no-bake cookies, peanut butter cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, banana bread, white bread, and zucchini bread. I can remember her including popcorn balls when I was younger too. Grandma made everything from scratch, she didn't take a shortcut by using a mix like I have done so many times.
Grandma had many signature dishes that we looked forward to having at family get-togethers. Every year there was a family reunion held the Saturday after Labor Day in September, and Grandma would bring cabbage rolls. I watched her make them one year when I was young, and I thought they were gross! To be honest, I never tried her cabbage rolls, although I wish I had, as I love them now. Most memorable dessert is Texas sheet cake, which is a rich chocolate cake with walnuts on the top and it was a staple at the summer picnics. "Pink stuff" was a favorite of mine, and my kids often request it still. I am not even sure what the real name of that dessert is, but we always called it pink stuff! I can remember her making dump cakes and a fruit cocktail cake. I loved that fruit cocktail cake so much, that I decided I better ask grandma for the recipe before she got too old to remember how to make it. So, one day I went to her house and asked her for the recipe, and she said, "I have never made a cake like that before!" Oh no! I waited too long. I was heartbroken, I was not going to get her recipe and realized she was never going to make it again. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, Grandma was suffering from full-blown dementia. I knew she was getting forgetful, but that day, I realized it was more than just being forgetful.
A couple of years later, our family was cleaning out my grandparents' house. I went in with my mom to choose items I wanted for myself. It was overwhelming being in the empty house, I was sad and teary eyed, so I sat down in the kitchen chair next to the microwave stand. The microwave was gone, but there was an index card laying there. I picked it up, and it was the recipe for "Fruit cocktail cake"! Can you believe that? I went into full blown crying and disbelief as that recipe card was a precious gift to me.
Grandma loved writing out recipes. She had a desk in the living room, where she would write out recipes into spiral bound notebooks with her yellow mechanical pencils. She would find the recipes in the newspaper, magazines, or get them from friends. I am now the owner of dozens of grandmas' recipe notebooks. I have spent hours flipping through them, and I feel connected with her as I read the handwritten recipes.
No, my grandma was not a professional baker, but she baked with passion and love for her family and friends.
*Photo of the vintage kitchen items was taken at Simply Vintage Marketplace in Mason, MI