My grandmother’s kitchen

IMG_6521One of the very precious things that came to me when my mother died was a tatty, battered thing full of words I could not understand.  I had never seen it before, and did not know until then that my mother had it, or even that it existed. Which is probably no surprise, in the circumstances.

It was my grandmother’s cookbook, with her name and location proudly inscribed inside the cover. My mother brought it back with her from Germany some years ago not as a cookbook, but as a dear memory of her mother, who died much too young.

IMG_6520I have heard quite a bit about my grandfather, who was a painter, and have quite a few of his paintings on my walls. There is a self-portrait too, and a few photos, so I have a reasonably strong image of him in my brain. He was part of a big, bold family, one of 10 children.

His wonderful skill with the paintbrush was passed on to my mother, my sister and my niece, who have all produced beautiful paintings and other art.

But my grandmother is a much more shadowy figure. She died in the war, when my mother was still a teenager, and there never seemed much concrete for me to hold on to. So when I found this cookbook, which so directly relates to what I love to do, it finally felt like some point of connection to her.

The tea cake recipe.
The tea cake recipe.

I desperately want to cook from it, but quite a bit of the script is in the old German writing style,  long gone from use and way beyond my limited German. Even the slightly more modern script is too old-school for me.

I struggled with it but got nowhere. This week (back in Germany visiting relatives) I brought it to the person I thought would best be able to help – Anneli, my mother’s wonderful cousin, my grandmother Paula’s niece.

It is a young housewife’s book, full of useful and everyday things. Preserves, cakes, meals. I understand it was started about 1900.

There was not enough time to go through it all with Anneli to work out what might be worth translating, so I chose a couple of recipes at random. Instructions at times are so minimal it was clear this was little more than a guide for her memory.

Here are two of the recipes that were translated. There is a meat dish I will post when I am back home again and am able to cook it.

But with these as a guide to the language, I hope I might now have a better chance of working through some of the other recipes and getting a better idea of what she cooked. The recipes below are my descriptions of the translations I was given.

IMG_6508Preserved apricots 

Pit and cut the apricots, and remove the skins. Weigh the prepared fruit. For each pound (German pound) of apricots, take 3/4 pound of sugar and make a sugar syrup. Put the fruit in the syrup and bring just to boiling, and then remove.

Let the syrup simmer for another 15 minutes to reduce. Put the fruit in jars and cover with the syrup. Cap.

Fruit tea cake

3/4 pound (german pound) butter
3/4 pound flour
3/4 pound sugar
6 eggs
3 gr cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
3/8 pound sultanas
3/8 pound currants
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp baking powder

Mix and bake for 1½ hours. (No guide given to temperature)


9 thoughts on “My grandmother’s kitchen

  1. What a great legacy to have! We have my husband’s paternal grandmother’s recipe box on a shelf in the basement. I need to go through it to see what she cooked.

    What is a German pound? and how is it different from an American pound?


  2. What a wonderful piece of family history. When we cleared my grandmother’s house I acquired all of the recipe books. They’re published books but full of her handwritten notes about the modifications she made to the recipes and notes about my mother’s likes and dislikes when it came to food – she was a fussy madam!


      1. I’m very lucky that it’s all in English. I had been working through a book written by my French granny which was more of a challenge as I had to translate as I went along. You’ve inspired me to look it out and continue the project.


  3. Preserved apricots, how timely! But ‘peeling’ the apricots, good grief what an effort. I am frantically picking yours at the moment and its a battle between me and the possums! I will make some jam today and dry most of them.


  4. Great reading and very enotional – grasping with family connections . I love, and envy, your tenacity and perserverence in finding much more. Love it


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