In many ways, I am a cook because of my grandmother.
I really don’t know what happened, what one event (if any), that got me interested in being in the kitchen. My mom has mentioned that it started when I would watch early cooking shows on PBS (The Galloping Gourmet, Julia Child, Yan Can Cook). Although, I remember watching those shows and very much enjoying them, I can’t help but wonder what got me to watch the shows, in the first place. The age old question : was it the chicken or the egg?
Regardless, at some point, it became apparent to all that I liked to be in the kitchen.. the one place where it is okay to play with your food. I am the only child of a single mother who had no desire to make food. She did it out of necessity because she had a young child that needed to be nourished; and she did a pretty good job, if you ask me. But, when it came to the discussion of food, the real meat and potatoes (pun completely intentional), the sharing of recipes and enjoyment of a meal.. that was all Grandma.
My grandmother was a homemaker. Later in life she worked, but while her children were young, she was doing what any woman her age would be doing : keeping house. She was a good cook. A few simple ingredients, but to this day, no one has been able to recreate the taste of her tuna fish sandwich. None of us can figure out why.
She is long dead. We still make her green beans for Thanksgiving. I think we all make her graham cracker cookies at least once every couple years, just to remember a simpler time and the taste of childhood. She had many little kitchen tricks, that I still employ, and could never share. Like many a grandmother, most of my memories involve some experience with her and a meal.
You can imagine my surprise when I happened upon an old cookbook of hers. I didn’t even know I had it. An old book from the 50′s, when a recipe might call for MSG. Yep, you read that correctly. I flip through it often to see what other surprises it may hold and what I might want to try. I never noticed the recipe until Saturday for Walnut Brittle. But, once I saw it, I knew I had to try it.
I’m not one for candy. In fact this is my first attempt at making it. It went well. What is most striking, however, is that even in death, my grandmother has a way to turn food into a memory.
- 2 cups [organic] sugar
- ½ cup white wine vinegar
- ½ cup [vegan] butter
- 1 cup chopped raw walnuts [or nut of choice]
- ½ tsp [or to taste] sel gris
- Place all ingredients, but the sel gris, into a large sauce pan with a candy thermometer. On medium heat, bring to a boil and maintain until mixture reaches 300-310 degrees, or the hard crack stage. Try to stir as little as possible.
- In the meantime, using a silicon baking mat on a standard sheet pan, lay out the walnuts such that they are evenly distributed. Once the sugar mixture reaches temperature. remove from heat, being careful, pour over the walnuts. Gently shake pan to settle and distribute. Sprinkle with sel gris.
- Once cool, break into bite size pieces.