Local Produce and Tastes of Childhood at Grandma’s

The other day I was rummaging the book shelf and run into grandma’s recipe book. It is a notebook she started writing when she studied at an institute of domestic science to learn about housekeeping in the late twenties. The notebook has black wax covers, checked pages and is neatly written in ink. It has an index with sections for different types of recipes.  Some of the pages are cluttered with smudges perhaps they are the pages with the favourite recipes. Some pages are filled with a child’s drawings – my mom’s, uncles’ or ours? The notebook took be back to the summers at grandma’s.  With her we would go to many different stores to get the groceries in order to get fresh and quality produce. She would often choose a smaller stand and wanted to know where e.g. the tomatoes were grown, when the fish was fished and so on, and would go to the same sellers at the market place.

 Recipe for ‘Aunt Hanna’s cookies’

I think we are back to grandma’s times with the local produce and ecological farmers’ markets, are we not? Many of us prefer the smaller producers and ecological food stuffs. Small ecological food stores are popping up everywhere and people shop more and more at market places and food halls. Some even get their flour and meat directly from a farmer in the country side.  We do this to get best quality and clean food stuffs. We might also choose them in order to ban large supermarket chains. We do of course have the alternative of easy shopping at supermarkets. We can find everything under the same roof and save loads of time doing that. It is often a matter of practicality and today you can find a good selection of ecological produce at the supermarkets too. Still, I wonder what our grandmothers would do. Would they still prefer the small shops or start doing their groceries at the large stores?

I have also learnt to pick berries and mushrooms and had a kitchen garden at home from my grandparents. We would pick blue berries and raspberries in late summer and lingon berries and cloud berries later in the autumn. The vegetable garden would grow carrots, sweets, lettuce, leek, onions and pumpkin and the other grandma’s garden patch potatoes and peas. This is the best local produce, is it not?

Perhaps the first memory of eating at grandma’s is sitting in a high kitchen stool and eating rice krispies with berry soup (a Finnish speciality, a thin soup cooked of berries, sugar and potato starch) for breakfast. The taste was not perhaps that devastating but the luxury of being alone with grandma in the kitchen and not having to share the rice krispies with anyone. We would have the other meals in the dining room and I remember the Sunday lunches with chicken and blackcurrant jam and roast beef. In the last years grandma would often make oven baked pancake with apples.

With grandma we would leave for the market place early in morning. It was berries, potatoes, vegetables and flowers we would get. Later in the morning we might take a stroll to the other direction, over another bridge to the west side of town and to the market hall. It had different and quite strong smells and that of smoked fish is something I recall. We would get fish or meat and occasionally special bread there.

 

A local grocery store in Sant Agnello, Sorrento and the covered food market in Florence.

The Ruohola deli on the east side of the high street was a heaven! The minute you opened the door you were caught in a swirl with sweet scent of exotic fruit, chocolate and freshly ground coffee. I could easily spend an hour there admiring the shelves and following the customers do their shopping. Sometimes I was lucky to get a titbit and try a new exotic taste.  Chocolate coffee beans were my favourites. The first apricots and cherries I tasted were from the Ruohola’s.

 Alexander cake

Another heaven close to grandmas was the Makutuote bakery with their cakes and cookies that would melt in the mouth. The cakes were something extraordinary and certainly nothing we could have every day. I learnt to know the Alexander, Mazarin, Sacher and Napoleon cakes and the S cookies, cinnamon swirls and so on.

I know why I love to go to the food markets and visit the food halls wherever I travel. I  don’t necessarily buy anything but just love to look a round. During the past year I’ve been to food markets and/or halls in Florence, Arezzo and Valencia. We would often find grandma in the kitchen with the lunch on its way well before noon. She would take her time and prepare the dishes with care. The food was always, always being in serving dishes. It was only the morning porridge that was ladled directly into the plates. On Sundays we would always have a desert and then the table might be set with some finer china. The table cloths would vary depending on the season and occasion. She had for example a special tablecloth with orange and lemon wedges for Easter that I remember. In one of the kitchen cupboards grandma had a bowl of chocolate that was never empty in case   the sweet tooth needed curing.

The dining room sideboards treasured glasses, coffee sets, pots and what not all in their own places. We discovered the contents during the many Christmases and other parties when helping in the kitchen. The kitchen was always left tidy. The last thing to do after was to sweep the kitchen floor. This is something I try to keep up with in my kitchen. I have a stone floor in the kitchen and everything I drop shows instantly and yes, everything I drop breaks instantly.

What I’ve just shared is just a tiny bit. I’ll be writing more later on and might also share some of the old recipes with you. I am lucky to have had such great grandmothers and to have known also my great grandmothers.

 A cheese shop in Pienza, Tuscany.

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