Every week, we’re unearthing Heirloom Recipes -- dishes that have made their way from one generation's kitchen to the next.
The last time I shared a kitchen with my grandma, she was 92 and led the way in showing me how to make lady locks – a croissant-esque cookie stuffed with cream – in the house where she’s lived for the past 54 years.
But at this year’s family vacation at a rented beach house along the North Carolina coast, Grandma barely set foot in the kitchen. Grandma is 94 and, though she is still herself, she now travels with an oxygen tank and has slowed down considerably. In fact, I’ve never seen her, someone who once told me that “installing tile yourself is really no big deal,” more content to be waited on.
I like to complain that I come from a culture-less, tradition-lite family. We don’t have a special Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner that must be recreated in its exactness every year. We’re a little Irish, a little Swedish, a little English, a little German, but we’re not enough of anything to speak a foreign language or even guess “lingonberry” in a game of charades—even if I had them saying berry and sounds like sling.
But we do have a few specific traditions. One: our annual beach vacation. And two: eating Grandma’s homemade waffles at some point during this gathering. As a kid, these beach waffles tasted like no other waffle I’d ever known. They smelled bready, yet were light and subtly sweet. I could eat them plain, straight off the waffle iron, though I usually topped them with sliced peaches and whipped cream.
The dough lived in a giant bowl that seemed to be permanently filled to the brim. When I got older, I realized that bready smell was the yeast and that Grandma’s dough never started at the brim but rose there overnight while we slept.
I hadn’t been able to make it to my family’s annual gathering the past two summers, so this one -- which was set to be Grandma’s last with the family as she is giving up her home in Pittsburgh in order to move to Taos, New Mexico to live with my aunt and uncle—really had to count. So I asked my mom to pack her waffle iron and Grandma’s recipe.
When my husband and I arrived at the house, Mom got right down to business planning out our meals – making sure to ask “when are we going to have Grandma’s waffles?” I went ahead and started the dough at 9:30 AM so they’d be ready for lunchtime. Doubling the recipe, I mixed the ingredients in the biggest bowl I could find in the sparsely stocked kitchen, while Mom sliced the fruit -- strawberries and of course, peaches. All the while, Grandma watched The Cooking Channel in the living room.
By noon, the dough had doubled in size, rising to the brim just like it was supposed to. But corralling a group of seven to eat lunch when the sun is shining and the beach is a block away isn’t an easy feat. And as I stood and manned the waffle iron, producing golden duos of waffles, one after the other, I heard my brother, referring to me by my nickname, tell my step-dad that “Amy’s waffles” were ready.
I’m four months pregnant as I type this. In fact, while we were at the beach, my grandma gave me a check for one-hundred dollars with the words “expected child” written in shaky cursive as the memo. I don’t own a waffle iron, but maybe I should use Grandma’s gift to buy one. And maybe one day, my future son or daughter will refer to them as my waffles. But to me, they’ll always be Grandma’s.
Makes 8-10 waffles
1 package dry active yeast
2 cups lukewarm milk
4 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar plus more for sprinkling over fruit
1/2 cup melted butter
3-4 peaches (or any fruit you like on top of your waffles)
1 cup heavy cream
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