How to cook like your grandmother
July 27, 2009 7:07 PM   Subscribe

Apparently I'm cooking like her already, because those are mostly recipes I already do pretty well. But she won't share her Kahlua recipe.
posted by empyrean at 7:16 PM on July 27, 2009

Butter. Lots and lots of butter.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:18 PM on July 27, 2009

Deviled Eggs are so great.
posted by dog food sugar at 7:18 PM on July 27, 2009

In seriousness, thanks for this. As someone learning to cook, its really valuable to get pure recipes for basic American food products before starting on whatever new catchphrase / fusion food Rachael Ray is making this week
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:23 PM on July 27, 2009

My son called me a couple of weeks ago to tell me that he spent the weekend trying to replicate his grandmother's strawberry shortcake... I smiled for a week about that.. then I needed to have some too!

Thanks for the link...
posted by HuronBob at 7:31 PM on July 27, 2009

omigod. so very awesome!
posted by jbickers at 7:31 PM on July 27, 2009

Rachael Ray? fusion food? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! huu... huuu... HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

How about Paula Deen molecular gastronomy?
posted by longsleeves at 7:36 PM on July 27, 2009 [5 favorites]

I sometimes aspire to be a snobby gourmand. It's not that I consider my palate to be exceptionally refined; it's mostly because I like cooking and I really like staring at sophisticated food porn. In my mind, it just tastes better when it's a Béchamel sauce than when it's a white sauce.

That said, three cheers for simplicity! Sometimes I love staring at pictures of desserts I can't even pronounce, but this...this is charming, unpretentious, and really quite nom-tastic. This strikes me as the ideal way to coax cooking-shy people into the kitchen.
posted by Diagonalize at 7:37 PM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

So. hungry.

posted by Space Kitty at 7:39 PM on July 27, 2009

Somewhere, Michael Pollan is crying.

These are awesome recipes. I've been making devilled eggs this week with pesto instead of mayo, but there's a lot to be said for the classic approach.
posted by maudlin at 7:43 PM on July 27, 2009

Love it.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:44 PM on July 27, 2009

How to cook like my grandmother: make an awesome roast (which I can do), and some wonderful Yorkshire pud (which I can't do), and then boil the living fuck out of the vegetables, who have apparently committed some terrible sin and must be punished (which I could do, but I'm just not so convinced of their guilt).
posted by pompomtom at 7:47 PM on July 27, 2009 [12 favorites]

dog food sugar: Deviled Eggs are so great.

Skipped the "chop a half dozen gherkins into tiny cubes and mix into the emulsion" step, degrading his deviled eggs from fantastic, to also ran.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:52 PM on July 27, 2009

My grandmother made fantastic rice pudding which I've replicated and I think is delicious but the kids won't touch it.

My grandfather (a baker) made wonderful bread which I can't replicate.

I think I'm better with beef and steak and eggs than they were but nowhere near as good with ham.

I'm waaay better with vegetables. Not as good with potatoes.

Pastry they slay me.

Things I've learned that they knew: salt is good, butter is good, lots of heat is good.
posted by unSane at 7:56 PM on July 27, 2009

I'm already a better cook than my grandmother. She was a great person, but she couldn't really cook.
posted by signal at 7:57 PM on July 27, 2009

But she worked in the canteen of the No.3 Light Industrial Goods factory in Shanghai.
posted by Abiezer at 8:02 PM on July 27, 2009

This is really nice. Classic simple recipes, and many of them are indeed exactly as my grandmother made them.

Besides simplicity, large amounts of butter, and good ingredients, I was thinking about one other thing that made "grandma food" different from what a lot of us make today - they used the "wrong" kitchen implements. I was musing on this after watching the Clara Cannuciari videos and remembering my own grandmother's kitchen. They happily chop vegetables with a steak knife or paring knife rather than fussing around to find an 8' French knife. They cook stuff in cast iron because it was their only semi-non-stick pan. They used aluminum bakeware, which, horror of horrors! heats unevenly and causes dread disease (so many believe). They used the same cutting board for everything. They mixed stuff with a fork or wooden spoon instead of a whisk. They didn't have mandolines and microplanes, they just cut stuff really small. They did not have parchment paper and Silpats; they relied on wax paper and damp dish towels.

At least some of the unique qualities of my grandmother's food, both taste and presentation, came about because of this decidedly non-professional, non-gadget-hound-ish, use of kitchenware. The rounded brownie from the corner of the Pyrex dish, with its extra-chewy crust, was always the best one to dip in milk. The glasslike caramelized surface on the bottom of her chocolate chip cookies was a function of her ancient, warped, and thoroughly-seasoned cookie sheets. The chunky cuts on her root vegetables owed their angular savor to her utility knife, not to careful study of Iron Chef knifework. It's interesting to note that, rather than try to optimize each traditional recipe Cooks-Illustrated style, this author appears to be using the kinds of kitchen tools that our grandmothers really did use.
posted by Miko at 8:02 PM on July 27, 2009 [10 favorites]

...and...I embrace the guy's general philosophy of eating uncomplicated food in moderation as a path to health. But I can't help but read some of the diet advice about how eating like our grandmothers will be better for our health, and remembering that my grandmother, for one, died in her 60s of congestive heart failure. YMMV.
posted by Miko at 8:10 PM on July 27, 2009

How to Cook Like Your Grandmother."


There is no reason, at all, to cook like your grandmother (figuratively speaking) unless she ran a world famous soul food restaurant or she's Alice Waters. Local ethic markets are springing up everywhere. The Internet and cable TV are bringing you meal ideas from around the world. American cuisine is being invented around you. You'll be fighting your way through great spices and produce to get to the boring stuff your grandmother cooked with. Recipes better than her's are a google away.

When I cook mac & cheese I use shrimp stock, British farmhouse cheddar (Lincolnshire Poacher for those wondering), and garlic basil panko crust.

Stop cooking like your grandmother.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:20 PM on July 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

butt'er? but she's my grandmother!
posted by qvantamon at 8:21 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a Brit who is proud of British food (let's not go there) I'm in awe of really good American diner food as developed in the first half of the C20th. There's a whole gestalt wrapped up in that kind of cooking which y6y6y6 misses. I like Lincolnshire Poacher (born in Lincoln!) but I don't make mac and cheese with it.
posted by unSane at 8:24 PM on July 27, 2009 [5 favorites]

To follow on unSane's point - diner food was something that set out to be as good as home cooking, and the recipes were based on home food recipes, to make the workers who were suddenly forced by an industrial schedule to take meals away from home feel like they were still at their own tables.
posted by Miko at 8:26 PM on July 27, 2009

How about Paula Deen molecular gastronomy?

Dude. Butter is the ultimate triumph of molecular gastronomy.

y63, that can be mac 'n' cheese, sometimes you want comfort food that's comforting because it's so plebeian.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:34 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

y6y6y6 Can... can you send me some of that mac 'n cheese overnight? (Don't tell my gramma.) Thanks.
posted by Kloryne at 8:39 PM on July 27, 2009

y6y6y6 - My grandma had an awesome coffee cake and an awesomer fudge, made from scratch. Neither of which would be recognizable to someone not from our family - her coffee cake was baked in a pie-plate, and was incredibly dense, sweet and moist, almost like a "Tres Leche" cake, with a crunchy, airy crust on top. The fudge was firm and thin and cracked like peanut brittle, and tasted intensely of cocoa. There are no recipes for this stuff that aren't hand-copied, one generation to the next, little improvements and tweaks passed along as well.

American cuisine has been "invented around us" for a few hundred years, now. Just because the processed food industry did their damnedest to bland everything down in their women's magazine recipes doesn't mean local family cuisines using traditional local family recipes are bland. I can't speak for everywhere, but if you got a granny in Pennsylvania, New England, the Canadian Maritimes, the coastal South, Louisiana or Texas who knows her way 'round the kitchen (I have eaten a granny's food from all these places), you got someone who can teach you stuff the TV shows just... don't... know.

And, to be blunt, $10/lb imported cheddar in the mac'n'chese is ostentation, not refinement.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:48 PM on July 27, 2009 [14 favorites]

Au contraire; everybody knows the best french toast is made with challah!!
posted by contessa at 8:50 PM on July 27, 2009 [6 favorites]

Okay well shrimp stock in mac and cheese is ludicrous, but so is just dumping melted cheese on pasta. You really, really need to make a bechemel first, even if you don't want to call it that. Other than that, I applaud the concept of simple comfort food.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:58 PM on July 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

To follow on unSane's point - diner food was something that set out to be as good as home cooking, and the recipes were based on home food recipes, to make the workers who were suddenly forced by an industrial schedule to take meals away from home feel like they were still at their own tables.

The history of the diner is really kind of interesting. Originally designed as mobile restaurants, the cooking centered around grilling because grills were what they had. The target clientele meant that cheaper cuts were front and center. Out of which you get the diner staples of breakfast, meatloaf and various kinds of brisket/corned beef and so on. The 70s ushered in huge competition in the shape of fast food restaurants like Mickey Ds. It's still a huge pleasure to me to find an old-style diner and discover what's on the menu. Breakfast is always safe but I've had some awesome lunches too.
posted by unSane at 9:14 PM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

You don't need bechamel. A good grated parmesan and pepper works fine for pasta.
posted by unSane at 9:16 PM on July 27, 2009

also, horny for scrapple about now
posted by unSane at 9:18 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

My grandmother made pralines and peanut brittle from scratch. As kids we were on a constant, delirious, happy sugar buzz.
posted by gimonca at 9:27 PM on July 27, 2009

Both my grandmothers were terrible cooks. Well that's not totally true. One was not culturally American, she made pretty good chicken paprikash and served pickled beets all the time. She made a poppy seed roll every Christmas that we never touched and would go real bad. The other managed to burn a self-basting turkey. I'm glad to say I think I'm a better cook than both of them.

Also, that Mac and Cheese recipe is terrible. Not because I object to it not being fancy or anything, I just hate it when mac and cheese doesn't involve a well crafted bechemel sauce (super easy to make) with bunch of cheese added. I made this all the time (using some heavy cream in the sauce if it's handy) and it makes people weak in the knees. Eff this melted-cheese-mixed-into-pasta BS.
posted by piratebowling at 9:29 PM on July 27, 2009

everybody knows the best french toast is made with challah!!


Leave it out overnight so it gets nice and stale and OMG delicious French toast in the morning.

Sorry. "Pain perdu" for all you foodies.

Also: doing simple food with honest ingredients is the highest form of cooking, IMO. Anyone can follow a recipe and make a complicated dish. But it takes talent to transform basic ingredients and turn them into something delicious. It takes practice, technique, imagination, and hard work. I like fancy food, sure. I can even make it. But I'm most proud of my tuna casserole. Because it's DELICIOUS. And unpretentious. And a one-dish meal I can assemble from scratch in less than 15 minutes, excluding baking time.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:38 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

One of my greatest joys is being in possession of my mother's amazing barbecue sauce recipe... I thought it was a Secret Family Recipe until one day I asked her about it and she said "Oh, I got that recipe off the back of a ketchup bottle back in the '60s."
posted by Ron Thanagar at 9:50 PM on July 27, 2009

There is no reason, at all, to cook like your grandmother (figuratively speaking) unless she ran a world famous soul food restaurant or she's Alice Waters. Local ethic markets are springing up everywhere.

Oh bollocks.

My suburb is mostly Vietnamese, with a bit of Somalian, Ethiopian, Croatian and Serbian. This is all wonderful, but none of these influences are going to help me make a good Yorkshire pud.

Or did Alice Waters make Yorkshire pud? /me googles
posted by pompomtom at 9:51 PM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Now if only we knew Great Grandmom's Ukrainian holopchi (stuffed cabbage) recipe... that one is lost to the ages. All my aunts and uncles agree that it involved a can of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup though...
posted by Ron Thanagar at 9:53 PM on July 27, 2009

My grandmother makes downright terrible American food. This shouldn't really come as a shock, considering my grandmother is Japanese, but that aside, I'm not sure I would ever call my grandmother an outstanding cook. I would never try to cook like my grandmother.

However--and I'm looking straight at you, y6y6y6--there are many grandmothers (not mine), who make simple, consistently delicious, and classic American fare. Fancier ingredients do not automatically make things better. I've eaten at Chez Panisse several times, and I'm dead certain Alice Waters would agree with me on this.

But to your other point, you don't have to shop like your grandmother, even if you want to cook like her. A simple and tasty dish can become downright fantastic if you're using fresh, local, seasonal ingredients.

To sum up, there's nothing wrong with mac 'n' cheese, support your local farmers market, and please don't cook like my grandmother.
posted by Diagonalize at 9:57 PM on July 27, 2009 [5 favorites]

Shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich... That- that's about it.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 10:02 PM on July 27, 2009

It's still a huge pleasure to me to find an old-style diner and discover what's on the menu.

I'm not sure why, but there are a ton of them in Connecticut. I didn't realize their uncommonness until I moved away. Even when the food is subpar, it tastes better just be virtue of being eaten in a greasy spoon diner.

Sorry. "Pain perdu" for all you foodies.

Whaaa? I hope there aren't actually people who insist on using "pain perdu" in English. But now that I think of it, it's completely unsurprising if there are.

Though I was utterly charmed when my french host-sister announced she was going to make "pain perdu" and set out to make what I had only known as french toast. I was so excited to tell her what we call it... she was unimpressed by my enthusiasm. Oh, well, c'est la vie.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:05 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, from the site's brownie recipe:

It's done when a toothpick inserted in the tallest part comes out clean.

That is a filthy lie spread by the sort of people who like overcooked cake "brownies." Probably with frosting and other unmentionable additions.

The toothpick should have moist crumbs clinging to it. Website, you're on notice.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:22 PM on July 27, 2009 [10 favorites]

What a generational gotcha. My grandmother could cook up heaven, from basic whatever. But she was second eldest of 16, grew up on a farm, and lived her entire life in the same county. My mother, OTOH, wasn't nearly as talented in the kitchen, and I'm a better cook than she was. (But, get her to sing, and who cared about the food?).
posted by Goofyy at 10:33 PM on July 27, 2009

"Okay well shrimp stock in mac and cheese is ludicrous"

Sort of like this, but with a more custardy base, and baked just enough to set. Making sure the shrim don't over cook is tricky, but you can either get tricky or just saute them seperate and serve them on top.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:50 PM on July 27, 2009

When I cook mac & cheese I use shrimp stock, British farmhouse cheddar (Lincolnshire Poacher for those wondering), and garlic basil panko crust.

Stop cooking like your grandmother.

I can't tell if you're being serious. It's funnier if you are, though, so I guess everyone wins!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:00 PM on July 27, 2009

I was utterly charmed when my french host-sister announced she was going to make "pain perdu" and set out to make what I had only known as french toast.

I had a similar thing happen when a Swiss couple proudly served us the national dish, Rösti. And I complimented them on the hash browns.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:02 PM on July 27, 2009

I had a Southern grandmother (Arkansas, maternal) and a Northern grandmother (Michigan, paternal). Both used butter and salt abundantly. And both had practices that would have appalled the AskMe "should I eat this" responders.

My Southern gramma would make beef vegetable soup starting the day before it was to be served and leave it out on the stove overnight, reheating it to a hard boil for a couple hours the next day. Corn pone cooked in bacon drippings is probably terrible for your heart, but hers was so awesome. I haven't been able to replicate it. I remember spending summers with her and she'd make it a couple of times while I was there, after I'd begged. We'd snack on it like it was popcorn. And the fried okra, yum.

My Northern gramma would do a similar thing with a roast beef and veggies, starting it the day before. And what she did with holiday turkeys would probably make some folks freak out, too. She'd also mix up a little container of OJ in the mornings and it would never see the refrigerator. She left butter out on the counter. It never went rancid.

They'd both grown up without electric refrigeration, though. And they didn't kill any of their offspring or grandchildren. I don't think their cooking sent anyone to the hospital either.

I want to mention here that they both lived well into their 80's, they both smoked and drank, and both were thin women who died from normal complications of old age, outliving their men by at least 20 years and never had cancer. I come from ornery stock and I'm glad.

Damn, I miss those ladies a lot.
posted by lilywing13 at 11:05 PM on July 27, 2009 [9 favorites]

My grandmother's an awful cook. Just awful. She came from that post-WWII, Levittown period when everything *must* be canned or straight from your grocer's freezer. I mean, it was the future back then, right?

Our Thanksgiving dinner menu has always consisted of an unseasoned turkey, a frozen pan of Stouffer's mac 'n' cheese, powdered taters, and can after can of cranberry jelly, black olives, and candied sweet taters. Oh, and absolutely charred-to-hockey-puck-status Pillsbury biscuits.

Last year, I offered to cook. I made, from scratch, a gorgeously roasted turkey with olive oil and citrus, mac 'n' cheese (with bechamel and crackers, thanks), mashed potatoes with bacon and sour cream, sauteed brussel sprouts, and Southern green bean casserole.

And it was delicious, I must proudly say. But it was just kind of... off. Just kind of... wrong. It tasted too... good.

I think we all just wanted some good 'ol fashioned preservatives.

Aesop say: Traditions are traditions— hockey pucks, Yellow No. 5, and all. (Aw.)
posted by functionequalsform at 11:27 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I am somebody's grandmother, I will be best-remembered for my bruschetta:

- Roma tomatoes
- Cherry tomatoes
- Jalapenos
- Red onion
- Strawberries
- Garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil.

That, and when my grandkids are reminiscing about how awesome I was, subsequent to finding my kinpaku-iri stash at my funeral because I expired from surfeit, they will be able to say "And did you know she was a dude?" Man, I can't wait to be there.
posted by turgid dahlia at 12:54 AM on July 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

From the Macaroni and Cheese Link:

"This can be served as a side or as a main dish. This time it was the entrée, with a side of Ree's steak bites."

Wow. Steak as a side for M'n'C. That's bold.
posted by sourwookie at 1:03 AM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Agreed that macaroni cheese must have super-cheese bechamel and not just be pure cheese.

I am also mystified by people who make gravy with cornstarch. Look, here's how you make gravy.

First, you make sure there was a roast onion in the pan. The onion contributes flavour and colour to the pan drippings.

Second, you pour off the fat.

Third, you dissolve the crusty stuff with hot water, or the water from the vegetables, or whatever liquid seems sound to you.

Fourth, you put a couple of table spoons of fat in a pan, and a couple of tablespoons of flour, and you fry the flour until it starts to smell cooked and biscuity, maybe colouring up a little. And then you stir in the liquid from roasting pan. If you start off with a little bit at a time, you can turn the flour into a paste, and then you can keep pouring and you won't have lumps (unless you like lumpy gravy. My nana was famous lumpy gravy. And lumpy custard. And lumpy porridge. Basically, if it was liquid, she could put lumps in it. Dad liked the lumps. But I digress).

Fifth, you season.

And then you wait a bit. It will look as though it's too thin, but in a few minutes, the flour swells and dissolves and you have thick, brown, TASTY gravy that will set solid in the refrigerator if there's any left. Cooked flour has a flavour and a nice grainy texture -- cornflour contributes nothing.

The corned beef recipe is risky. If you boil the beef, you can adjust the seasoning if it's not salty enough (hardly likely). But if you use his method, and the cure was on the salty side, you're doomed. Also, my nana and my grandma would have soaked the beef overnight and thrown away the soak water because in their day it was way too salty.

The idea of this site is great. But as long as we're going to idealise grandma, I reckon we might as well idealise the recipes too.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:34 AM on July 28, 2009 [6 favorites]

(When I say "the water from the vegetables", I mean the liquid from steaming or boiling your greens).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:36 AM on July 28, 2009

If you cook like anyone's grandmother did 50 years ago, that's a great start. But cook -- don't simply unpack and microwave -- and do it from scratch, from fresh ingredients, not from mixes.
posted by pracowity at 2:31 AM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

One of the things to consider when cooking like grandma is that meat has changed a lot from her time. An example would be pork which, unless you have a heritage breed like Berkshire, Durock or those really fat ones from Hungary, is simply super lean. Pork no longer is raised for fat but for sheer lean meat (the other white meat). Most pork stock is still lean bacon stock which is way different from the fattier breeds. Heritage recipes have WAY longer cooking times for pork. What would have been tasty and juicy with grandma is a charred, dry, cat killing hunk of carbon today.

This is why you see foody mags push for pork flavor brining; to compensate for overly lean pork. The trend towards pinker cooked pork is part of that reasoning too and one the very marked improvement of pork production, reduction of trichinosis.

So as Miko said, equipment used is different and the ingredients themselves are real different.
posted by jadepearl at 2:56 AM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Now if only we knew Great Grandmom's Ukrainian holopchi (stuffed cabbage) recipe

Ron Thanagar: i can probably help you with that. we did ours stovetop, but i've also baked them before. i use store-bought canned tomato sauce but growing up it was always the tomatoes that my mom & grandma canned themselves. and i have an easy cabbage casserole recipe that involves chopping fresh cabbage instead of steaming the leaves & making rolls. it's a one-dish, top-of-the-stove deal that's easy & tastes pretty damn good. and no condensed tomato soup, but i've found that throwing in a can of condensed cheese soup is pretty tasty. memail me & i'll hit you up with a couple variations if you're interested.

and y6y6y6: my grandma would have used shrimp stock & lincolnshire poacher, too ... *if* she had it around & it needed to be used before it went bad. not likely because my grandma was dirt poor, but should she find herself in possession of something like that, it would have been a sin to waste it. the general thought was that although food is a basic necessity, there's no sin in making it palatable. no one ever used a recipe, but rather riffed on the basics with an eye toward frugality. it was all about using what you had, making a dollar stretch, and doing right by the god who gave you such bounty, no matter how paltry that bounty might be.
posted by msconduct at 4:53 AM on July 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't need any advice about this, thank you.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:36 AM on July 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Christ, I wish I could cook like my Grammie. Except in my case, that would mean salty, crumbly farmhouse cheese (for which which my father has re-created the recipe), farmhouse black pudding (which she was apparently famous for, and for which the recipe doesn't survive), good fresh bread, toutons, and mind-blowing oatmeal cookies.

And as long as I'm wishing, I'd like my village-baker Papa's recipe for white bread, too. :(
posted by LN at 5:36 AM on July 28, 2009

I recall my grandma being a fantastic cook. Fried Catfish. Cornbread. A pot roast after church on Sunday. And she could work magic with the vegetables she pulled out of that red clay. My god, the okra!

Of course, I loved my grandma very much, so those memories may be colored by affection. I only say this because I know there were some days when, after a presumably exhausting experience babysitting my siblings, cousins, and myself, she would throw some Totinos' in the oven and then go into her room and lock the door, saying she was going to go read her bible for a while. I still to this day affectionately refer to them as "mamaw pizzas".
posted by gordie at 5:49 AM on July 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I love reading this thread.
posted by box at 6:17 AM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Now if only we knew Great Grandmom's Ukrainian holopchi (stuffed cabbage) recipe... that one is lost to the ages. All my aunts and uncles agree that it involved a can of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup though...

Here's what I know:

You need Rokeach Kosher Sour Salt. I got mine at a kosher grocery store on Murray Avenue in Pittsburgh.

Mix high-fat hamburger with dry rice, sour salt and pepper. Steam whole cabbages until the leaves are soft and pliable.

Roll the hamburger mixture up in the cabbage leaves. Put down a layer of bagged, fresh saurkraut on the bottom of an enormous soup pot. (caraway seeds optional) Then throw some diced, canned tomatoes. Again with the sour salt. Do the layering thing until you're out of cabbage rolls.

My mom used one of those big cans of tomato juice, but I guess tomato soup would work just as well. Pour that in there, it should look 'soupy'.

If you like that 'sweet and sour' flavor, sprinkle some sugar in there, it won't hurt anything.

Cook the hell out of it.

Your house will smell so bad the animals will cower in the corners. Mash some potatoes, get out the old corn-rye bread and make a salad out of cucumbers and sour cream.

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:29 AM on July 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah, if somebody put shrimp stock in my mac 'n' cheese, I would cry and throw it at you.
posted by contessa at 6:56 AM on July 28, 2009 [9 favorites]

Interesting that so many responses here involve Southern grannies. When I lived in the Deep South briefly, I was quite put off by the vast amounts of cream, butter, bacon grease, etc. that went into the local specialties. I respectfully submit, therefore, that "old-fashioned" cooking simply means ignoring all the health warnings that have been bandied about since roughly the 1970s.

Oh, and here's my step-grandma's "unstuffed cabbage" recipe: 1 lb. ground beef formed into meatballs. 1 large cabbage, cored and quartered or eighthed if you need to make it fit in the pan. 1 can whole cranberries. 1 bottle Heinz chili sauce. Put meat & veg in dutch oven. Dump entire bottle and can into pot. Simmer over lowish heat for 1.5 to two hours. Serve. Not bad, really.
posted by scratch at 7:10 AM on July 28, 2009

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:29 AM on July 28

There is drool on my chin. Thanks for the recipe!
posted by Ron Thanagar at 7:21 AM on July 28, 2009

One of my grandmother's classic dishes was Butter Balls and Noodles - it couldn't be much simpler or less appetizing (to my taste buds, at least). Both of my brothers get very excited and nostalgic if my mom happens to make it, while my wife and I exchange covert glances, silently conspiring to hit the Del Taco on the way home.
posted by malocchio at 7:22 AM on July 28, 2009

I went for the recipes, but I stayed for the Kegmobile. I want both these guys as neighbors.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:24 AM on July 28, 2009

Well just great. Apparently Grandmother's cooking is a threat to Chinese social stability.

Fwiw, neither of my Grandmothers were good cooks.
posted by michswiss at 7:31 AM on July 28, 2009

I thought it was a Secret Family Recipe until one day I asked her about it and she said "Oh, I got that recipe off the back of a ketchup bottle back in the '60s."

Similar story: my Southern grandma made a lot of layer cakes from scratch. One of our favorites was her lemon cake, insanely moist and tangy and citrusy. A few years ago I decided to re-create it for my brother on his birthday while the family was all vacationing together. I got on the internet to research what I assumed was a complicated list of ingredients and processes, involving lots of eggs, vinegar, perhaps rosewater, freshly squeezed lemon juice, royal icing, etc. I told my mom "I have to find the ingredients before we go shopping!" and she said "What ingredients? It's just yellow cake mix with lemon pudding mixed in." I was like, "No, the kind grandma always made!" and she said "Yeah, that's how grandma made it. Recipe's on the Duncan Hines box." Go, grandma.

I'm not sure why, but there are a ton of them in Connecticut.

They're throughout New England in any older town, and the reason is the industrialization I mentioned above. New England's river and coastal towns were the first to industrialize in the modern sense - switch from a farm- and craft-based economy to a manufacturing economy centered on water power, around which cities grew up. The Industrial Revolution was reaching its peak in New England around the time diners began to pop up, and they arose because factories (which had formerly provided meals to employees in boardinghouse kitchens, family-style) were seeking to become less beholden to workers and to streamline operations. Where once they had provided residence halls and food service to attract and support a workforce, the influx of immigrants to New England, coupled with internal migration off the farm and to the cities, created a labor surplus rather than shortage, and factories no longer needed to support workers to the degree they had earlier. So they cut that expense and workers went on their own to source food and housing. Diners sprang up, first as horse-pulled wagons and later as repurposed train cars and/or trucks, to make it easy for workers to grab a hot breakfast or lunch, close to the factory, on a short break time or before or after a shift. That's why most of them are closed in early afternoon, as well - unless there was a third shift, there was no need to serve dinner, as it was expected that people ate dinner at home. In previous generations, in rural and small-town economies, people returned home for lunch at midday and spent more than an hour eating it and often resting for a while afterward. It was the largest meal of the day, and it was home-cooked. Factory life decidedly did not allow for that leisure, nor did it reward filling up with a big meal before returning to boring, routinized work.

I respectfully submit, therefore, that "old-fashioned" cooking simply means ignoring all the health warnings that have been bandied about since roughly the 1970s.

The blog author has a few posts about this. And Pollan's writing covers it thoroughly. Despite the amount of health 'literature' we read in the form of newspaper and magazine articles about the latest study, there are really few points that are unassailable with regard to diet and health. One is that we need a variety of nutrients, and I think one key to eating this sort of thing and making sure you stay healthy is not to eat only this sort of thing. A diet of mac'n'cheese and brownies and steakburgers is not going to be good for you if that's all you eat. But if these meats and fats and sweets are only a part of a diet that also includes lots of fresh fruit, lots of fresh vegetables, lots of beans and grains, lots of water, few processed foods, few sodas, few fast foods or junk foods - then it's not going to kill you. At least not by itself. Also, my Southern grandparents, who ate like this, worked their tails off until they were in their 80s, doing housework and chores, taking care of a garden and yard, working in the workshop, and walking a lot. If we moved our butts more, our bodies could tolerate more in the way of nutrient-dense food. We just don't move enough to eat like they did. It's a pity, because we now feel 'guilty' when we eat rich food like that. There was a time people were able to eat it with satisfaction and delight, because it wasn't perceived as an evil, but a good, which they had earned and had ample room for in their active and generally healthy lives.
posted by Miko at 7:32 AM on July 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

Oh, and count me in on the necessity of starting mac'n'cheese with a bechamel. How gross to just melt the cheese. They're not Pasta Nachos, fer Chrissake.
posted by Miko at 7:33 AM on July 28, 2009

My grandmother made a great noodle kuegel, but thought that ketchup was an appropriate sauce for pasta.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:37 AM on July 28, 2009

Yeah, my Southern grandma was not great with the Eye-talian specialities.
posted by Miko at 7:39 AM on July 28, 2009

I often cook like my Mom. It's the food I grew up with, so it's comforting, and she was a pretty good cook. That generation was mostly good at cooking because they got a lot of practice. There was no takeout, no frozen meal option. They cooked from scratch. They generally didn't use expensive or imported ingredients; my Mom's kitchen, at least, didn't have olive oil in it until the 90s. There was a dreadful phase of using Campbell's soups as the base for many dishes, to which my Mom, blessedly, did not succumb. In my Mom's cooking heyday, tomatoes were real, fresh and tasted fantastic, or they were canned, and used accordingly. The advent of vegetables tweaked for grocery shelf life has not been good for the taste of food. Corn on the cob came from a farm stand, and was rushed home to be cooked as soon as possible, so it would be sweet and tender. Chicken tasted better, too, and was sometimes tougher, though never mushy. My son says my beef pot roast is really good, but his Nana's was better. I think she'd be fine with that.

I like old-school eating: mac-n-cheese (the Best Recipe version), meatloaf, bread pudding(bourbon sauce not optional), and homemade gravy with any dinner involving a roast. Now I'm craving home cooking.
posted by theora55 at 7:45 AM on July 28, 2009

I grew up 2000 miles away from both of my grandmas, so I don't remember their cooking but my mother's was pretty bad. Her cooking suffered from
a) budgetary restraints (lots of hamburger and processed cheese)
b) the fact that my dad was always on a diet (lots of stewed tomatoes and cottage cheese)
c) grocery stores in the 50's and 60's were frightfully understocked by today's standards.

So I had to teach myself to cook which I did by reading hundreds of cookbooks, practicing, and marrying a chef. My husband (the NOT chef) adores my cooking mainly because I don't follow his Southern Mama's way of boiling the ever-lovin hell out of everything. Also because I use butter, cream, and other quality ingredients. Aside from starting with the best ingredients I can afford, I take my time. Making dinner usually means putting in an hour and half or more. The best food can take days. My chicken pot pie starts with a brined, roasted bird. The vegetables are chopped in smaller-than-bite-sized pieces and roasted separately. The chicken stock is made after the meat is picked from the bones and simmers on the back burner for hours. The gravy made from the chicken stock starts with a roux and is finished with cream. However it is the pastry that really makes the pie-- I use an all butter pastry that has had plenty of chill time and very little contact with my hands. The resulting pie is so savory, so tender, so filled with good things that it is worth all the effort I put into it.

Come to think of it, I'm old enough to be a grandma.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:51 AM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Recipe's on the Duncan Hines box.

The "secret" to my insanely good trifle is it starts with the Velvet Crumb cake recipe that used to be on the Bisquick Box but is now found on their web site. I haven't found a base that I like better although I've tried-- it is the only reason why I buy Bisquick now since years ago I found better from-scratch recipes for pancakes and biscuits. But back to the trifle. Slice up the crumb cake and lay down a third into your trifle bowl. Sprinkle liberally with your best sherry or brandy and scatter in some fresh raspberries. Next, spoon in vanilla cream custard made with real cream and plenty of egg yolks and vanilla bean scrapings. Then more trifle, alcohol, raspberries, custard, etc until you have 5 or 6 layers. Top with real hand-whipped cream and slivered almonds. Let set in refrigerator for one day. This is made only at Christmas so that you can look forward to it all year.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:02 AM on July 28, 2009

I barely knew either of my grandmothers, so I mostly cook like my mother, who was one of the great cooks of any generation: an early and fervent Julia Child devotee, devoted cookbook collector and 40 year Gourmet subscriber. I'm always trying to live up to her legacy in that, except for the meat three times a day "It's not a meal without meat" thing. Let me point out, too, that that sophisticated lady always said that breakfast is the most difficult meal to do right: the timing on bacon, eggs, grits and biscuits all has to be perfect or none of it is any good.

I also try to cook like my ex mother in law, who is an amazing classic Carolina lowcountry cook - oh god she crab soup and shrimp and grits and red rice and nom nom nom nom - but I'm going to nth whoever said to remember that the ingredients are different now. My mother and I were both sad when we had to retire the classic beef stew she had made all her life: beef is really too lean now to do it without a ton of added fat. Broccoli didn't get more green in the pan when my mother was a girl, or so she swore (this eeps me out a bit, ) She crab is verboten and eggs from the supermarket just don't whip up the way ones from the farm do.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:15 AM on July 28, 2009

mgl, that's one of the big reasons I transitioned a bunch of my shopping to the local farmer's market. You can still get the good ingredients, though they're more expensive. The eggs are the example I like to share with people - you can crack a grocery-store egg and a farm egg side by side, and they don't even look alike, let alone taste alike. They do cook up in an appreciably different (and richer) way. Same with beef - find a local source for pastured beef and buy in bulk, and you'll have it year-round. The grass feeding and animal's age at slaughter (sorry but true) makes a difference.
posted by Miko at 8:26 AM on July 28, 2009

When my dad was a young man, my grandma cooked a slab of bacon, fried eggs in the fat, and soaked up the remaining fat with toast. For his breakfast -- most important meal of the day, dontchaknow. He's a little over six feet tall and weighs tens of pounds less than I do (maybe 155).

And that's in Minnesota, good german/Norwegian inattention to dietary suggestions, not the south.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:37 AM on July 28, 2009

Recipe's on the Duncan Hines box." Go, grandma.

Anytime that you can find a "recipe on the box" or a church-supper or Junior League cookbook recipe, it will be foolproof. It may not be exotic, but it will be reliable.
posted by tizzie at 9:54 AM on July 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Great little post, but I feel I must point out that proper rye bread looks like this rather than this.
posted by Dysk at 9:54 AM on July 28, 2009

I respectfully submit, therefore, that "old-fashioned" cooking simply means ignoring all the health warnings that have been bandied about since roughly the 1970s.

Yup, cuz they're wrong.
posted by symbollocks at 10:23 AM on July 28, 2009

I was waiting for the Weston Price link...
posted by Miko at 10:34 AM on July 28, 2009

How to cook like my grandmother? I believe she uses a technique known as "kill it with fire."
posted by katillathehun at 10:51 AM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

My Southern gramma would make beef vegetable soup starting the day before it was to be served and leave it out on the stove overnight, reheating it to a hard boil for a couple hours the next day

This is why the AskMe ZOMGdonteatit brigade are often silly: many foods - especially soups and stews and tomato-based sauces - improve dramatically by being left out for 24 hours.

I'm actually going to try the fishy mac-and-cheese. y6y6y6 reminded me that I always wanted to try that lobster mac and cheese (also the lobster club sandwich, if that restaurant is still around in this economy) and I have some lobster stock lying around. I'll report back.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:14 AM on July 28, 2009

One of my proudest achievements is being able to make my GrandMom's biscuits. From scratch, complete w/ lard and whole buttermilk. It's done by eye and feel - nothing is measured out, except for the spoonfulls of lard. Nobody else in the family cared enough to learn, so I'm the last remaining link of knowledge.

I'm trying to teach my nephew the zen of her biscuits. He's interested, but he's not so willing to make batch after batch to get it right. (Course the best part is eating the evidence of mistakes!)
posted by mightshould at 11:55 AM on July 28, 2009

Seasoning packet? What the?

Corned beef is often the cheapest (per kg) great big slab of meat I can buy here, so I have had a lot of practice with the stuff. My personal discovery is that a gigantic dollop of black balsamic vinegar (along with bayleaves, peppercorns, a couple of onions, and (if available) a glass of el cheapo rouge) gives the best flavour.
posted by Catch at 12:45 PM on July 28, 2009

How gross to just melt the cheese. They're not Pasta Nachos, fer Chrissake.

Why would you melt cheese when you can just tear open the packet of cheese powder and dump it in?
posted by freecellwizard at 1:36 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty fantastic at cooking like my grandmother; the secret is that, whatever you're cooking, you turn to the person watching you cook and ask why they haven't given you any great-grandchildren yet. Then you sigh and make a grim remark about how you'll probably die soon.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:49 PM on July 28, 2009 [10 favorites]

My mom's mother thought my mom was some kind of fancy modern gourmet cook for dumping cans of Campbell's soup into and onto things.
posted by longsleeves at 2:21 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

My grandmother (my mother's mom) is a fantastic cook, with the sole exception of roast beef which she insists on cooking until it's a dry stringy unrecognizable mess. None of her three daughters really picked it up so our family is going to starve to death when she passes away. The greatest loss will no doubt be her pierogies, which are a total labour of love. My cousins and I put in our orders for massive batches to bring home with us when we're back in our hometown visiting. She'll put up dozens and dozens which we then horde jealously. For some years now, recognizing that she can't live forever, my cousin and I have been trying to learn her recipe. You'd think it would be easy - it mostly is - but it's a heck of a lot of work only to have it fail in some mysterious way. My notes on how she makes it include lots of very vague directions like "put in however much you want of salt" or "add some - maybe a cup, maybe four (however much you want) of flour". The only way to learn is to watch it happen. So I've started taking videos. Next, I hope to actually catch her making the dough, which is the hardest part I think. But first, I think I need to call her now and put in my order for when I'm home in October.
posted by marylynn at 2:36 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

The only way to learn is to watch it happen

Personally I think the only way to learn is to practise. I have one or two things up my sleeve that people like, but I can't really explain in terms of a recipe why mine turn out and other people's don't. Except I have been making things for long enough that I can cope with inevitable variations in raw materials and conditions and adjust accordingly, and I know what I'm trying to do.

Perhaps grandma's secret is that she has been doing it for decades.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:46 PM on July 28, 2009

...for those that think the mac-n-cheese recipe listed will...Not be very good, well don't knock it until you try it. The key to this recipe [and other "traditional" mac-n-cheese recipes] is the American cheese. Processed American cheese [actual process cheese, not the soy/corn oil mix] has an emulsifier [generally sodium phosphate] in it to keep the cheese texture smooth when melted [i.e., keep the fat from separating from the milk solids]. This acts in concert with your other cheese(s) to keep those cheese bits from "curdling" [crystallizing].

Sure, if you want to be "impressive" do use the roux+scalded milk or go on to the next step of a mornay sauce. Just keep in mind that these are "grandmother's" recipes and that "making do" with what was available an important part of the American early 1900s until the end of World War II and that many American servicemen and women had eaten/developed a taste for American cheese in WWI [via Kraft, as a supplier to the U.S. military of shelf-stable cheese] and were hit with serious marketing campaigns climaxing in the 1930s [in which Kraft had a ~40% market share of cheese sales].

Also, I like teh cheeses. A lot.
posted by ill13 at 5:36 PM on July 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Wow, I've never seen this much discussion of my stuff all in one place before. Very cool.

Just because it keeps coming up, I thought I'd say a word on the mac and cheese. My preferred version is the baked one with eggs, which has a completely different texture than "regular" mac and cheese. It's not creamy at all, more like a lasagna.

And I agree with both marylynn and joe's_spleen. You have to watch, because she's been doing it for years. Which means she doesn't go by exact measurements so much as how it looks and how it feels.

My wife also shot video of her grandmother. In her case it was ravioli. And you can see everyone keeps asking, "Nana, what did you just add?" Oh, that was Parmesan. "And how much?" [Holding up a handful of it.] Oh, about that much.

Great fun to watch the video, frustrating as all hell trying to recreate it.
posted by Drew Kime at 6:06 PM on July 28, 2009 [8 favorites]

That looks rich and tasty. I like eggy casseroles, and I like mac'n'cheese, and this looks like an interesting marriage of the two.
posted by Miko at 7:03 PM on July 28, 2009

My grandmother used to feed me pickled eggs and bread and dripping. I no longer partake of either of those alimentations.
posted by tellurian at 12:15 AM on July 29, 2009

Hiya, Drew!
posted by cortex at 6:57 AM on July 29, 2009

Hiyo Drew!

Thanks for an awesome resource.
posted by Lord_Pall at 8:29 PM on July 29, 2009

Recipes better than her's are a google away. When I cook mac & cheese I use shrimp stock, British farmhouse cheddar (Lincolnshire Poacher for those wondering), and garlic basil panko crust.

"Honey? While you were out buying panko, The Point dropped by. Yeah, you totally missed him."
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:10 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Why the hate for y6y6y6's Fancy Mac & Cheese? It sounds great, and this is coming from someone who would be very happy with a bowl of Annie's out of the damn box.
posted by everichon at 11:25 AM on August 1, 2009

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