Catherine Lucille Schauls Gloe - my grandmother - was a “maker” before that was a Pinterest term or a hashtag. I think all grandmothers were. They baked, sewed, snipped, saved, and created every day. They made something from nothing, because they knew how, and often because they had to.
My grandmother passed away last spring after struggling, gracefully accepting and living with cancer for many years. She outlived her diagnosis by more than two years, giving us extra time together to share stories, memories and meals. As her last gift to me, she passed down her personal collection of cook books and recipe boxes. There is so much life in their pages and worn corners, meals and treats that know her touch and her taste.
Having spent a few months with this collection now - missing her and piecing together a glimpse of her life from her belongings - I’ve found tiny calculations scattered in the margins and on the backs of cards, written in her perfect cursive. My grandmother was so frugal that she would calculate the cost of each batch based on the price of ingredients in that moment. Some pages have charts where she would track the price year-over-year, so you can follow along and see how much a dozen lemon bars cost to make in 1965 vs. 1966. Seeing this, and imagining her budgeting so carefully, seems argument enough for reinstituting Home Economics courses.
Despite our mutual love for cooking, some things must not translate genetically - my approach in the kitchen is admittedly less organized. (As my own mother would say, I’m a mess in the kitchen.) Often, I cook in response to feeling overwhelmed - with sadness, joy, or just too much muchness. I pull ingredients out of the cupboards, prop open cookbooks, and take over every inch of counter space with multiple recipes going at once. It’s my method of establishing control, settling into the rhythm of the kitchen, using my hands and my senses, and disconnecting from distraction.
In particular in these frenzied moments, I seek out my grandmother’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, which was passed down from her mother Ermyl Schauls. I thumb through my recipe book until I reach the page that is most familiar, and most stained with errant vanilla splashes.
Butter. Sugar. Eggs. Calm.
In the months since her passing, I have realized that many of my strongest memories with my grandmother are moments when we were apart, and moments connected to these cookies.
I spent a semester in Thailand, and my grandmother would write me letters and send care packages of little things. This and that. Comforts from home, including more than a few bags of cookies. Grandmothers, or yaai’s, are particularly revered in Thai culture. For me, witnessing this strong generational connection abroad strengthened my own commitment to preserving my grandmother’s knowledge and passing it down through our family.
Now, I am creating my own home. Now she is gone. My heart aches for her, and for the questions I won’t be able to ask, the letters we won’t write. But, I have the privilege of carrying forward all the memories she left behind for me in her cookbooks and recipes. Our conversation continues every time I see her handwriting, every time I imagine her preparing wild rice casserole, Lorraine’s Banana Bread, or a batch of cookies. We are connected through our kitchens, and the meals we prepare for those we love.
My grandmother’s last letter to me said: “When you make my recipes, think of me. Fill that cookie jar!”
Kitchen Photos by Eva Deitch