If anything in this world is certain, my grandmother will always be there, and she will always make her Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies.
Little puffy clouds of awesome, a crisp shell protecting a sweet, gooey chocolaty center; messy to eat as all get-out. The only solution is to shove the whole thing in your mouth in one bite – purely out of necessity.
The Meringues are a family staple, and I could not even conceptualize an event without them, dozens stacked delicately in “the Meringue Tin,” large and red, with a scene of posies or roses or a winter farm wonderland on the lid. Honestly I do not know what is on the lid (oh wait, maybe poinsettias?), because whenever I see it, it is moving quickly, leaving only tracers in its path, like speed lines following a fast-moving cartoon character … always being removed immediately, to reveal the prized Meringues.
I just figured the Meringues would be on the dessert table at every family event, for all time. But the possibility now looms large that she might not make them again.
My grandmother is celebrating her 90th birthday today, navigating the new social scene – and a new stage of life – as she settles in to her independent living community in my parents’ town. She declared, upon stepping in to her new kitchen – which has a MICROWAVE (blasphemy!) – that she would never cook again.
I guess that includes the Meringues.
My childhood was filled with warm family dinners at “Ga and Papa’s” apartment on the South Side of Chicago. Playing the role of the picky-eating granddaughter, I cannot say I always (…ever?) cleaned my plate, but I genuinely loved and appreciated the enthusiasm with which Ga served and savored every dish. She was proud of her creations, loved every bite she took, and was excited to share with those she loved.
After law school, I moved to Washington D.C. and settled in to my life and career. As my interest in cooking started to pique, I decided I needed to download as much information as I could from her head about cooking. Her unedited response to my email request is simply proof that my grandma is the cutest:
Hi Boo..I just got your Email and I’m excited about our date also.I had
4 things in mind to do. I don’t think we’ll have time for everything..so
what should we eliminate? I’ll so the marketing on Tuesday of next week
because I’M BUSY wED, AND Thurs.The 4 things are popovers,grapefrut
salad,creamed spinach,and a yeast meringue coffee cake.Let me know what
you think and the shopping list. I liove garlic so the hamburgers sound
That was 2006. I do not recall making all of these items during my visit, but we definitely added her famous brownies to the list. She always has a batch in the freezer – you never know when you might need to host company with tea and brownies! Or sneak a brownie for yourself. When the brownies came out of the oven, we waited for them to cool (torture), and sprinkled with powdered sugar, per Ga’s regulations. She showed me how you “have to” cut the crusts off. She explained it was to make more uniform, square brownies, glossing right over the part where we ate all of the crusts.
She then said – and I sensed no humor: “You know how to make the brownies. I can die now.”
I was taken off-guard and shot back “No! I don’t remember it! Look how terrible my notes are! You have to keep making them!” I would gladly give back the brownie recipe if it meant she would always make the brownies – and always be there.
But at some point, the next generation has to step up to make the desserts.
I cracked the Meringue Code shortly thereafter, and while the cookies I make will never taste like Ga’s, I am proud to serve them as a colorable imitation.
As Ga transitions from the four-bedroom apartment where she lived for nearly 50 years, 40 of those with my grandpa, we are going through the platters she has announced she will never need again, the same platters on which she served us at our family dinners. I can only hope the home I give them, and the food I top them with, are worthy.
It has been fun to be able to talk to her about how I can (= must) use her serveware:
“This was a wedding gift to me and Papa. It hasn’t tarnished after all these years.” We discussed using the large silver platter to serve from my kitchen island; it is a bear to lift! It is stored in a pillowcase monogrammed with a “B.”
“Oh! This one is for a small roast, you could use it now.” An oblong silver tray inset with a cutting board. I have used it several times already.
“I want you to have these appetizer plates, you can use them for anything.” She looked at me coyly, then directly asked the last name of my boyfriend at the time, to see if the monogram would match up. Negative. I asked her to keep the dishes in her new home, just in case she has “the girls” over for bridge and wants to serve tea and brownies. She took them reluctantly, reminding me that she wants them to stay in the family. I know. They will.
I visited my parents in October, and when I arrived in my bedroom in their home in Indiana, on the desk was a recipe file. My grandma’s.
I guess she was serious that she will never cook again. Time for the next generation to make the desserts.
It was so very bittersweet to go through the recipes with her and ask for suggestions on when the dishes are best served, and for tips to jot on the back. She wrote “wonderful” on a few as we went through the file, looking me squarely in the eye and saying, very seriously, “this is soooo good.”
I am headed to my parents’ again next week for Thanksgiving. Ga and I have a date, to make the Meringues together.