Friday, May 30, 2008

Pecans and Ambrosia



This week my grandmother Elizabeth celebrated her ninety-sixth birthday. She is a tiny bird, and though she was never the cook of the family I recall some influential food situations that surely shape the genepool. She is a Texan, and always had a major interest in plants and flowers and trees, like the pecan tree. My dad also has a deep respect and love for plants and trees of the region and pecan trees and nuts in general seem to be in the the family taste. Every Christmas without fail my grandmother cracks and packages pecans (we say pe-CAHN) in Tupperware (nothing cutesy) and mails them, and my dad makes pecan pie. I think the family members like pecans, but I am pretty sure that honoring the tree and distributing its fruit is taken as seriously as any praline.

I don't remember too much candy available at my grandparents house, but there were always jordan almonds around. I always thought these seemed promising but their hard, chalky, not-very-sweet breakup would disappoint every time. It is possible that the jar of opaque pastel almonds was present for the aesthetic quality. After all, they were placed on the countertop where my grandfather arranged sliced fruit in a geometric mosaic on top of their cereal every morning.

At holidays and family reunions, Kaypah would make ambrosia. She made it in a large stemmed cake glass, mostly while seated. It involved layer after layer of colors and shapes and I remember I loved how it looked but hated the metallic-y taste of the canned mandarin oranges and the dry coconut dyed pink from the maraschino cherries. My dad instructed me to choke it down, and pointed out that no one liked it but we all had to eat it.

Driving to see the folks we would stop in Czech towns to pick up kolaches for them, a pastry with cheese or fruit like apricot or prune. We would also stop to get Elgin sausages and barbecue. My grandmother can certainly eat barbecue, which seems pretty bad-ass to me.

At her ninetieth birthday party, I remember we had a selection of appetizers including warm brie with almonds on it. For her entree she ordered the warm brie. There was some fussing about this from her offspring, but after all the 80 pound woman was ninety and she could do whatever she wanted. She had a pink napoleon for desert and a glass of Bailey's Irish Cream. I am floored by my grandmother's longevity, which I am convinced is a product of her stubbornness. The secret couldn't possibly be the Velveeta "cheese puddle" or the Coca-Cola she drinks every day with a mouthful of original teeth.

Though she might not taste much these days or hear, or see, I salute all the faculties of my complicated Kaypah with love.

1 comment:

Homesick Texan said...

What a loving tribute to your grandma--I bet she's proud of you!