Grandma’s Garden

Ruth Huston gave me some of the best advice I could ever use.  Ruth was a dietitian.  Discussing some of the fad diets of the early 2000s, she said with a harsh voice that “the only way to lose weight is to consume fewer calories than you burn”.  I suppose there are many people who would want to debate that because they have successfully lost pounds by using a South Beach Diet, or a Keto Diet, or abstaining from a certain element found in many foods.

I’m sticking to Ruth’s advice.  I have also come to accept that just about anything in moderation is okay.  It’s that second cookie; or the large bowl of ice cream with chocolate syrup, whipped cream, and a maraschino cherry; or three rather than two pancakes that makes a difference. Do I really need the whipped cream and maraschino cherry?

The best evidence I have for following Ruth’s advice, and the advice of so many experts that preach moderation, is one of my grandmothers.  Grandma Ryan lived to be 104 years-old. 

Grandma would wake up in the morning and fry bacon and eggs.  She would serve toast with butter and jelly or jam, and supplement the breakfast with a cup of coffee; just one cup of coffee.  She would save that bacon grease and use it to fry her potato slices for lunch.  Supper would consist of something like roast beef with potatoes and gravy, and a vegetable – usually something that had been canned last summer from her bountiful garden – like green beans or carrots.  Often, her dessert was a slice of her homemade apple pie.  She made the best apple pie; she used lard, flour, and a dash of salt for the crust.

All that food Grandma ate would be extremely taboo today.  Bacon, butter, lard, gravy?  But you have to remember, she had a vegetable every day.  She limited herself to one cup of coffee.  She worked hard in her garden, which was about three-fourths of a city lot sitting next to her house.  She didn’t drink alcohol. (Although I can never forget her having a glass of Sherry at Kathleen and Bill’s wedding.  She had to softly slap her face at times to accept it.)

Her garden was vast, and Grandma did everything herself.  She planted potatoes, carrots, green beans, beets, onions, cucumbers, and several other varieties of vegetables.  She had a patch of dill for her dill pickles, although her sweet pickles were awesome, too.  An apple tree was the only fruit tree on her property, at least, as far as I know.  The apples and potatoes were stored in a cave located between her house and the garden.  The cave was pretty cool – literally and figuratively.  I suppose it could be eerie for some; a spider web would greet you at least once while you were down there.

The walls of the cave had shelves, and they were filled with jars of all the things Grandma had processed from the previous summer and fall.  My cousin Denise told me that the three walls were designated for our family, her family, and one for Grandma.  I don’t know about that.  Grandma gave me things to take home and I don’t remember her getting them from one particular wall. 

Grandma worked in that garden until she was 91 years-old.  After I was married, I lived a half-block from her.  I saw her often walk down to the post office to get her mail, and stop at the grocery store to pick up some milk, flour, or whatever other staple she needed to make a meal.  She wore the same thing, winter and summer.  A black hat on top of her beautiful white shiny hair; a black knee-length coat; and shoes – black, of course – with a small heel.  She carried a black purse. 

Grandma may have worn glasses, but I don’t recall her wearing them unless she was reading.  She couldn’t see anymore; she couldn’t hear; but she could still carry on a conversation.

She entered a nursing home two years after she had given up on gardening and canning vegetables and fruit.  I went to see her several times a year.  I remember walking into her room at the nursing home with my wife and two daughters.  She would remember Terri and the kids, but ask who I was.  I think she was trying to be funny. 

Today, I am the one who is canning.  Actually, I’m freezing vegetables and fruits.  However, I have canned some peaches from a tree in our yard.  I have that magic touch.  I have pickled some cucumbers and, although I didn’t pickle them like Grandma would, they have turned out better.  I actually fermented them prior to putting them in jars.  I have just discovered that the longer they sit on the shelf, the better they are.  My goodness.  My mouth is watering just thinking of them.

I also bake pies now, using lard as in ingredient in the crust.  You can’t beat it.  I don’t eat many eggs, or bacon for that matter.  I watch my red meat intake and try to have gravy sparingly.  I still like my butter, and I remember Grandma using it freely.

My daughters and I saw her for the last time at St. Anthony Nursing Home in Carroll one Sunday.  We arrived at lunch time.  Grandma was in the dining room and had finished lunch.  She had a slice of apple pie on the table in front of her.  She asked if I could feed it to her.  That slice of pie looked just like hers.  That was the last I saw of her.

I never realized until this year how much I love good food as much as Grandma, and how much I enjoy making a meal rather than going out to eat.  Hey!  I’ll be okay with just living to be 100!

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