A Special Weekend

July 22, 2010

This past weekend was a fun road trip. On our way to central Minnesota, my husband and I visited my Aunt Judy and Uncle Art.

Judy is my mother’s sister, which means she’s Ruth’s daughter. Spending time with Judy is like having my 70-year-old grandmother back again. She looks like Ruth, she sounds like Ruth, and, as she pointed out, she was even wearing Ruth’s clothes and jewelry. The photo above shows her beaded jewelry collection, all made by Ruth, and an afghan Ruth crocheted when Judy was a baby.

It was a special weekend.

While we were there, Judy brought out her family photos. And I brought out my scanner. We now have lots and lots of updates to the blog. Here are a few of them, and more to come later.

1. George, circa 1928; George and Ruth, 1929

2. Ruth, age 17

3. Judith’s Four Generational Confirmation picture

4. George Larson and daughters Carol and Judith, Imlay City, 1939

5. Larson Family in Imlay City, 1939

Doris Lee painting, Barbara Kingsolver book and BHG cookbooks

I’m a big fan of Barbara Kingsolver. She writes both fiction and non-fiction, and she always finds an entertaining way to inform readers of social and environmental issues. I’m currently reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, her nonfiction piece on homegrown food.

While Barbara motivates me to the days of food prepared outside a chemist’s lab, she also makes me think of my grandmother, Ruth. It’s not like Ruth was some health-foodie-before-her time. In fact, the recipes we’ve posted from her collection include some highly-processed ingredients.

But Barbara’s words are poetic and certain quotes put me back in my grandmother’s dining room above the store where we ate Sunday dinners. Or my mother’s kitchen, where I listened to the gathering of grandmothers as they helped prepare the meal.

Quotes like this one:

“I’m discussing dinnertime, the cornerstone of our family’s mental health…A survey of National Merit Scholars—exceptionally successful eighteen-year-olds crossing all lines of ethnicity, gender, geography and class—turned up a common thread in their lives: the habit of sitting down to a family dinner table.”

—Barbara Kingsolver,
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

Or this quote, which goes well with the Doris Lee print shown above:

“Kitchen-based family gatherings are process-oriented, cooperative, and in the best of worlds, nourishing and soulful. A lot of calories get used up before anyone sits down to consume. But more importantly, a lot of talk happens first, news exchanged, secrets revealed across generations, paths cleared with a touch on the arm.”

—Barbara Kingsolver,
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

And lastly, a quote that’s so very true in each of our lives:

“It’s surprising how much memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.”

—Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

Jell-O Cup Memories

July 8, 2010

red jello

One of my earliest childhood memories of my grandmother, Ruth, is the red Jell-O treats she served whenever we visited.

Sometimes she’d pull them from the fridge in the backroom behind their grocery store (more on that in the months ahead), other times from the fridge in their upstairs apartment. She always made them in leftover Dixie ice cream cups, a concept gelatin manufacturers have now stolen and market as their own unique selling point. Copycats.

Anyway, in my memory, the Jell-O was always red.

Now, Jell-O made in one big bowl is okay. But there’s just something fun about Jell-O in individual cups. It’s one of the many endearing things grandmothers do that make a kid feel just the most special in all the world.

I eventually grew up, and my associations of food to my grandmother matured as well. I don’t recall her having an epicurean interest in cooking (I think she was too busy for that), but she was a good cook nonetheless.

I’m posting one of her recipes below. I know there must be others floating around—do you have any? Please share in the comments. Or email me, and I’ll post them.

Ruth Larson’s Crescent Rolls

2 pkg. dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
2 teas. salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup shortening
7 to 7-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 warm milk

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Stir in rest of ingredients. Knead five minutes. Cover with damp cloth and let rise 1-1/2 hours, or until light. Shape into crescents. Let rise 40 minutes. Bake 350 degrees, 15-20 minutes.

Update:
Rebecca came through with some cool scans—good examples of what Ruth may have been cooking for Ladies Aid. Thanks!

Ruth Larson's crescent roll recipe

Kool-Aid punch recipe

fruit cocktail cake recipe

Pineapple Salad recipe

sloppy joe recipe

chef boyardee spaghetti recipe

Okay, I’ve gotta say, Chef Boyardee spaghetti does not sound good! I think this recipe and the sugary ones above are indicative of cooking styles in the 1960-70s. And that’s something I think Ruth was pretty good at—keeping up with trends. I remember she had a microwave before I did!

Also interesting about this recipe: The thank you for David’s birthday gift. What do you think that was about? Dave did you ever have Chef Boyardee spaghetti on your birthday? Yummmm….:-)

So, here it is Independence Day, which means we’re more than half way through the year. I bet you’ve been wondering how those 60 bells are coming along, right?

Well, considering I should have at least 30 done, I’ve fallen a tad behind. I’ve completed 26.

Not to worry! In the weeks to come my husband and I are taking some road trips. And since he rarely relinquishes the wheel, I’ll have plenty of time to catch up on bell-making. Let the beaded bells hit the road!

But first, let me digress a bit…

In my husband’s family, we gather every year on the Fourth of July. Since we always hold the gig at our house, there’s no road trip involved. But because we live in an old farmhouse and we spend the day sitting on our porch, it reminds me of the pictures below and how my grandmother, Ruth, and her husband’s family gathered together on the farm.

The farm is Clarence Larson’s in Imlay City, MI. Clarence, you’ll recall, is one of Ruth’s brothers-in-law, and he and his parents moved to their farm in Michigan in 1925. According to stories from Ruth and her daughters, the George Larson family often took road trips from Chicago, around the big lake, and on up to the farm.

George and Ruth Larson with their daughter, Carol, 1935

Know anything about cars? Can you identify the make and model? Look how big it is—little Carol practically had her own apartment in the back seat. Also, check out George’s white wingtips. Traveling shoes.

Get-together at Clarence Larson Farm, Imlay City, MI, 1935

From l-r: Ruth holding Carol, Arthur, Esther, Roselda and Clarence Larson.

Arthur, Esther and Clarence were George’s siblings. Roselda was Clarence’s wife, and they later became foster parents to Wayne S. (Dad’s buddy from work, who had 16 kids).

Carol and Ruth Larson in Imlay City, 1935

I believe this is Clarence and Roselda’s farmhouse (please correct me if I’m wrong). I’d love to see this house today!

Brothers, l-r: Arthur, George and Clarence Larson, 1935

Don’t you love the ties? Do you think they were dressed this formally for their get-together on the farm? It certainly was a different era than we have today—I can verify there will be no ties worn at our get-together .

George & Ruth Larson with their daughter, Carol, 1935

George Larson with daughters Carol and Judith, 1939

The George Larson Family, labeled in Ruth’s handwriting. All of the above pictures were developed by Hulls Photo Service in Anderson, IN.

George Larson with daughters Carol and Judith 1939

George Larson with daughters Carol and Judith, 1939

George Larson Family in Imlay City, MI

George and Ruth Larson, with their daughters Carol and Judith (sitting), 1939

These two photos were provided by Ruth’s daughter, Judith Hackbarth.