My Grandmother passed away recently. My parents had children at a very young age which meant I have been fortunate enough to have had a long time with my grandparents.
The day after my grandmother died I was working, trying to stay on task, however my mind kept wandering to memories of Grandma. Particularly times I spent with her when I was a child. She was well known in our family for her gift of making unparalleled french fries.
What follows are my thoughts on her french fries. I read this at her memorial and it is a little off topic from my usual content but I wanted to post it here.
My Grandma's fries
My grandma would make French fries and she would toss them with salt in a white enameled bowl with a dark blue rim. It had a chip in the enamel which had been worn smooth from years of use. These enamel bowls, if you have ever known one, seemed to always have a chip or two and you can see the metal heart of the bowl beneath.
The enamel will shine and gleam, silky smooth to the touch. But it is really the metal beneath which is the heart of the bowl, unseen but for the chip. To me, that bowl is one of the most significant artifacts from my childhood.
In our family my grandma's fries were legendary. The promise of that particular delicacy was persuasive beyond description. The words "Grandma's fries" still signifies pure bliss in my mind. All other fries after have always been and will always be compared on a scale where hers are the unattainable pinnacle of achievement. The recommendation "almost as good as grandma's fries" is the five star recommendation for French fries to anyone who ever tasted hers.
She made many culinary items I loved. Sweet buns, slightly burned on the bottom, butter horns I always felt were a little undersized leaving me no alternative than to eat more than one… or two… okay maybe three. Then there were dough boys dipped in sugar on the days when she made bread. Cabbage soup with vinegar, admittedly not for everyone but I loved it. There were cabbage rolls, porcupine meat balls and on and on but her fries… Oh man, her fries…
I simply cannot adequately describe her fries. They were perfect; absolutely no room for improvement. Hand cut, hand peeled, always with the same paring knife against her calloused thumb. Then double fried in a pot on the stove. I believe one of the keys to her success was the double frying. Then, finally tossed in salt in that enamel bowl.
It could have been any number of these details which set them apart from any other fry I have ever encountered. Or perhaps it was something else entirely. Maybe the brand of lard she used. The way she would re-use the remaining lard and add to it each time as required. Or perhaps it was her choice of potato variety. Or that she often used potatoes she had grown herself and were kept in the wood sided box in the basement.
Perhaps, it was none of these details. Maybe it was all of them and countless more I have forgotten or never knew. Maybe it is just nostalgia and longing for a lost thing I can never have again. It maybe something else which eludes me, like the name of a grade school friend I can't quite remember. So close, yet just out of reach, so really a world away.
I remember the peelings bitter and sweet. I remember eating the raw cut potatoes with salt and pepper. How she would, often need to cut more because we would all have our fingers in there. I can still see my Dad eating those small, raw, potato discs she had not yet cut into fries. I can see him shaking salt and pepper on them and then doing the same myself. The crisp, cool, starchy snap of that first bite.
Then, after the first frying, I remember how we would once again raid the bowl. Often causing her to have to peel and cut more potatoes, cut her thumb again, further delaying supper.
We all knew they were better at the end, but there was a separate and in its own way, equal pleasure at raiding the process through its various stages.
However, I do not believe her fries were so delicious, so perfect, so pure because of any of those things. For me, it was then, and will always be that bowl. I think you could repeat every other aspect of preparing her fries down to the most minute detail but if you didn't have that bowl you would be wasting your time.
I realize I have not seen that bowl in more than two decades. That quite likely I have it completely wrong. Maybe the rim was black, not blue. Perhaps it had many chips, not the single chip I recall. Maybe she used different bowls on different occasions.
I was only a child and countless factors affect how and why we remember things. I truly believe there are very few resources at our disposal that we can rely on less than our memories. Particularly, our childhood memories.
However, in this case that all makes zero difference to me. This is how I remember it. Certainly part myth and part reality but every bit my memory of Grandma.
As a child, a teenager even an adult, grandma's fries were my absolute favourite food. Nothing else was even close. I am acutely aware, as I write this, how I lack the vocabulary, the skills and the ability to convey how great Grandma's fries were. But I am certain anyone who was fortunate enough to have had them remembers them. They were part of our lives as significant for many of us as any of our memories of Grandma.
So I can't think of Grandma without thinking of French fries and the enamel bowl; passing it around the table taking fries out with the tongs or by the handful if the tongs were out of reach.
There is one more part, I remember. After supper there were often some fries left over. These weren't put away in the fridge; that would be ridiculous. They were left on the counter in a bowl. Maybes sometimes even the bowl. Every time you walked by you would grab a few. Then later, as appetites returned, some of us could be found hanging around the bowl finishing them off. Maybe some made it through to the next day on occasion but I doubt it was very often.
My Grandma's fries.
I don't remember the last time I had them. I have been racking my brain trying to remember. I won't of course, because it doesn't really matter. All I know for sure is I won't have them again.
I was thinking how I wish I had known when I was having them for the last time. I would have paid more attention, relished every bite. But I know that isn't true, because I could not have enjoyed them more or appreciated her more for making them.
I hope she knew that and I believe she did.
This is dedicated to my Grandma. I miss you.
photo credits: Google images