If God had intended us to follow recipes,
He wouldn’t have given us grandmothers.
The older I get, the more I appreciate my grandmother. Though she has been gone a long time, my memories of her lately are stronger than ever. And more and more, I realize the great gifts she gave me that are very much a part of me.
Whenever I cut a good tomato, fresh from the garden, I think of my Yiayia. My grandfather always put in a big garden and by August, there were plenty of fresh vegetables to be had. Yiayia would make summer salads with her beautiful leaf lettuce and lots of those really red tomatoes.
She also loved fresh basil and would frequently cut a small piece to put behind her ear. She’d walk up from her garden, the basil leaves facing front and she’d have a big smile on her face. I think she just loved the smell of it and liked keeping it close to her. These days, I love basil and we frequently grow a couple of big basil plants every summer. Rubbing the leaves between my fingers and smelling the fresh scent is one of my favorite things to do. I don’t remember if Yiayia cooked with her basil (I imagine she did!) but I love to snip up the leaves and put fresh basil on everything from roasted vegetables to green salads.
As with most grandmas, Yiayia was an excellent cook. She made everything from scratch, mixing most ingredients together with her hands. She had a big ceramic ware bowl she would use to make Greek avgolemeno soup. As a young child, she would let me use her hand held rotary beaters and I’d beat those chicken eggs to a frothy yellow. She’d have homemade chicken broth with rice all ready to go, and we’d add my yellowy beaten eggs to the hot broth just a little bit at a time. She’d finish it off with some lemon juice and the result would be a smooth, slightly lemony chicken soup that was just out of this world. I don’t ever remember seeing a recipe written down for it; I’m sure she didn’t need one.
Holidays were a big deal to her. At Christmas and Easter she’d roast a leg of lamb and do all the fancy sides: Greek oregano potatoes sliced longways into quarters and baked in the oven, a big salad with tomatoes and feta cheese, Easter bread with a red hard boiled egg baked right into it, little black eyed peas drizzled with olive oil and lemon. There was always amazing food at her table during the holidays.
I think the most important gift my Yiayia gave me was her example of what hospitality should be. When you had dinner at her house, she pulled out all the stops. The linen tablecloth and napkins came out, her most beautiful serving pieces and china were polished and displayed, candles were lit. I can remember numerous times when the table would be so full with multiple selections of food, we hardly had a place to eat!
It it really those great times, those “eating” times, that make me realize how lucky we really were. To have had her among us, teaching us all those traditional things that to her came so easily….what a gift!