A “Cherries” story from a reader

October 17, 2011

Hey everyone,
Daytona Strong (who has one of the best names ever) wrote to me a few months ago saying she had a very Cherries-like story about her Grandpa and a family recipe she loves. Here it is, along with great photos. I’m so glad to be able to post them here.
Thank you, Daytona!

It was late summer 1992. Grandpa M. had just passed away. T-boned while driving through an intersection. Months in a coma. Gone.

On that September afternoon—in the church where two generations of my family had worshipped God and relatives had gotten married—we all gathered in the steel blue sanctuary to say goodbye.
When you’re ten years old, things hit you in a peculiar way. You store away the details in your memory—little things like the silly nickname you gave your grandfather and the way you used to lock him out of the house and giggle while he pretended to not see you hiding inside. You remember a seven-syllable medical term you can’t define–subdural hematoma–and the quiet helium confidence you felt as you walked up the blue carpeted stairs to give a eulogy at your grandfather’s funeral.

“What I’ll miss about Grandpa was his hot dish.”

What a strange, insensitive little girl, those who didn’t know me must have thought. But in a way that’s inexplicable to those of us who are no longer children, that was the most evocative–and, in a way, profound–honor I could give my beloved grandfather.

Grandpa and Grandma M. met in North Dakota before the war. Rearing two daughters and a son in a rural town where their extended family ran the bar and local car dealership, they left in the 1960s to head west to Seattle. Planting their roots in Ballard–a distinctly Scandinavian neighborhood overlooking the Puget Sound–they settled into a brick house where they made a home, Grandma in her kitchen on the main floor, Grandpa in his kitchen in the basement.

In the summer they’d harvest the raspberries from their backyard garden, treating the kids to the sunny burst of berries picked at the peak of perfection and dressed with sugar and milk. Grandpa would package the raspberries into flats and sell them to passers-by. As the weather cooled and Christmas approached, Grandpa and Grandma would convert the basement kitchen into a lefse factory, rolling potato patties into thin rounds and baking them on a portable grill amidst a cloud of flour. The lefse–dressed with butter and sugar, and maybe a sprinkle of cinnamon–remains a holiday tradition to this day as Grandma–now 92 years old–teaches Mom and me how to make it.

Grandpa’s hot dish fed us when we visited. Ground beef, egg noodles, three kinds of canned soup, and a mix of seasonings, it tasted like the epitome of comfort food–warm, creamy, soft, and made with love. Existing as no single memory, rather as a conglomerate of happy ones, that hot dish was a tangible representation of the cozy warmth of my grandparents’ love. Somehow, as a ten-year-old girl, I understood that.

Unlike lefse, however, Grandpa’s hot dish has lived on almost exclusively as a memory for me these past 19 years. I’ve since found the recipe. Grandpa published it, with the name “Egg Noodle Doop,” in his church’s cookbook decades ago. Part of me wants to try making it myself, but the other part knows it will never be the same. While he had the ingredients listed, I’m pretty sure he always gave it his own special touch–that of improvisation and of love.

Daytona Strong explores her Scandinavian heritage through the lens of food at Outside Oslo (LINK: http://outsideoslo.wordpress.com/), and co-authors the online writing resource Nooks & Cranberries (LINK: http://nooksandcranberries.com/).

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