It’s been said that when you see a cardinal, it means that a loved one that has passed is visiting you. Recently, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my grandparents Glenn Archer & Clara Lou Peters Stewart for some reason. We’re from Ohio where the cardinal is the state bird and though I’m not exactly sure what made them collect them, my grandparent’s house was filled to the brim with cardinal knickknacks. They even had a large one painted on their garage door. Ever since buying our house two years ago here in New York, there has been a large family of cardinals in our backyard and every time I see one of them, I immediately think about my grandparents… but particularly her for some reason as of late.
Writing about that grave stone I saw with the recipe on it awhile back made me consider how much food connects us to our family, even when they’ve passed on. A few years ago, I compiled my recipes and had them printed in a fancy cookbook format for my children and included several recipes from other family members as well, including a few particular favorites of mine from Grandma Clara Lou. As I’ve begun to dig deeper into my family tree, I’m realizing the importance of passing these food traditions along as well. Pictures are great, sure, but talking about our loved ones while making an heirloom dish with a child creates a long-lasting impression that’s sure to stick with them.
After my parents divorced, my mom rented an apartment down the street from her parents and the home she grew up in. I used to go down there every so often and have dinner with them. One of my particular favorite dishes was this modest & cheap Chicken Noodle Soup casserole made with two cans of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, a can of condensed cream of chicken soup, a sleeve of Ritz crackers and a few pieces of bread cubed up. Nothing fancy whatsoever. When I first got married, I wasn’t a very good cook, money was always tight and I asked her for that casserole recipe. Of course, she wrote it down for me but sometime after her death in 2002, I lost the recipe and for years, I could not remember the recipe nor duplicate it despite many failed attempts.
For years, I wished and wished that I could ask her about that recipe again. Then one day, I woke up and suddenly, some how, some way, I just remembered it in every detail. I scrambled to find a pen and paper so I could write it down. When I made it later that week, it was perfect and just how I remembered it from my childhood. This casserole is so good and comforting that it was the one dish my husband would repeatedly write to me about while he was away at basic training in Texas, proclaiming it his most missed food from home. It was also one of the first I made sure to cook when he came back. 🙂
Maybe it was just a stroke of memory recall on my part but I like to believe that she somehow imparted it to me again. It might seem implausible but I don’t necessarily discount the impossible just because it immediately seems so. Sometimes, I even swear I smell her perfume and its sweet rose scent stops me right in my tracks… it just seems that real.
Casserole aside, there is another item that connects me to her. Every single Christmas, I continue her tradition of making Buckeye Candies (or chocolate covered peanut butter balls for those not from Ohio). I think my family and friends would positively RIOT if I didn’t make them each holiday season. When we make them, the whole family pitches in – one rolling, one dunking and one packaging them up after trips to the fridge where they harden up. As we make them, I enjoy talking about my grandma Clara Lou and how these candies were the most sought after item on the Christmas buffet table, how she’d trade them with her church ladies in the cookie exchange and how my parents were always scolding me about ruining my appetite by eating copious amounts of them. I didn’t care though; they were massively nummy.
Now that I’m a grandmother myself, I hope that someday my grandchildren will know about Clara Lou’s Buckeyes, her casserole that has become my husband’s favorite dish and even my own famous chocolate chip cookies. I hope that with every batch that bakes, every sticky finger and every messy face, they’ll remember our stories, our traditions and our memories…