Margaret Richtie takes the time to interview her 100-year-old grandmother about her solid tips of working her way around the kitchen. Margaret recalls their conversation.
From as early as I can remember, my grandma was the only real cook in my family. We had 10 children in our family, so my mom gave up on cooking before I was born. The only real, balanced meal of the week was Sunday afternoon at Grandma's. She was an extroverted pastor's wife and would regularly invite half the congregation over after church. Large numbers didn't stress her out and I remember thinking it was the most delicious food I'd ever tasted. Her favorite dishes were broccoli-chicken casserole and almond-crusted chicken; always cooked to perfection, with Jell-O for dessert. They were old-fashioned recipes, but they were also the definition of comfort food. We always got to help (and "taste test") her food when she was in the kitchen.
I interviewed my Grandma for this part. These are not all direct quotes, but I summarized the best I could. My grandma will turn 101 in December (2016). She has trouble walking, but no trouble talking.
What's the most important thing about cooking to you?
Hospitality. Always have an open door and always have a touch or a smile and you'll realize that everyone is desperate for contact. Sometimes in a restaurant people are sitting there alone with tears in their eyes and I go over and invite them to my house for dinner. People are lonely and want contact, and the easiest way is through food. That never changes.
What's your best advice for cooks?
Use your imagination. A lot of people get hung up in the details ... a pinch of salt is usually half a teaspoon, but it's really just how you want it to taste. Don't be bound by a recipe. Make substitutes if you have to.
We didn't have much money, so I often had to find things in my pantry that would work. Food doesn't have to be fancy; people want connection more than they want fancy food. Keep the kitchen clean and orderly and let other people do the physical work. It was a big help to me to have other people clean the pots and pans; it helped me conserve my energy.
Do you have any traditions from your mother that you've passed on?
Mom was so busy with her 10 kids that we learned to be very independent. I learned to cook on my own. We didn't get the all the attention and cuddles that we needed, but it made us self-reliant and not spoiled.
To see more of Grandma's story, check out some outtakes.