Delicious Memories

July  3, 2012

This is the tweflth installment of Sunday Dinners, a biweekly column from our own Tom Hirschfeld featuring his gorgeous photography, stunning Indiana farm, and mouthwatering family meals.

Today: Tom tells tales of his grandmother's epic Sunday Dinners, with a full menu of Pan Fried Red Snapper with Tarragon Tartar Sauce, Sautéed Zucchini with Basil Leaves, and Fresh Herb Potato Salad.

Sautéed Zucchini with Basil Leaves

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I was looking through some old photographs the other day when I found one of my grandmother, Esther, when she was very young. Old photographs have always fascinated me. They stir my soul -- I have such a longing to understand what the person might have been thinking while they were posing for the photo. I tend to spend a bit of time daydreaming as to what their life was like, what their desires were, and how I would have felt about them if I had known them then.

I didn't know my grandparents well. My mom's parents were both gone before I was even a year old, and I only knew a little about my dad's parents. As with everything, time burnishes your memories and you begin to forget -- but then I started to think about my grandmother's pear preserves.

My dad's mom didn't cook complicated dishes, probably because she had mouths to feed: her six children, any extra farm hands that might be around during the day, and my grandfather.

That doesn't mean she didn't know how to cook. I remember very clearly one early Sunday just after church, sitting at her kitchen table in the small mid-century ranch they lived in after she and my grandfather retired from the farm, eating a sugar cookie laced with the exotic flavor of nutmeg and watching her cook. She had the deft hand of a line cook when she was at the stove: sliding dishes in and out of the oven with a folded towel and keeping pots and pans just right on top of the stove with a slightly oversized spoon.

The food she made was delicious and incredibly memorable, but you'd never call it fancy -- at least not by today's foodie standards.

Fresh Herb Potato Salad

In all honesty, I couldn't tell you anything firsthand about my grandparents' weekday eating habits. I only know about their Sunday dinners. We lived just far enough away that we didn't see them but for a few weekends out of the year. When we did, there was always an after-church supper to be had before we would pile into the car, sleepily full, and head home late in the afternoon, our faces yellowed by the vibrant setting sun shining through the front windshield of the car.

I remember biscuits and white bread. I don't even think they were homemade -- the convenience of the grocery store was upon them -- but I know the jam was homemade because I distinctly remember her pear preserves. There was always a pot roast or pan-fried pork chops to be served, and if my grandfather had been out hunting, we would have fried rabbit or squirrel instead.

When my grandfather was younger he would seine net the creek that ran across his farm for shad and collect the roe, and he would climb into the rafters of the barn and collect squabs when they were big enough and before they could fly. My grandparents might have been country frugal, but there was no lack of variety or creativity.

One of the things I remember most is my grandfather's love of fishing. He would hook his small fishing boat to his car and head north to the Great Lakes at least once a year to fish for perch and walleye.

At the end of the day he would patiently clean a big mess of yellow lake perch the size of his hand and bring them home to freeze in the chest freezer in the garage. The freezer was a real luxury -- my grandmother could now pan fry a batch of the small filets whenever the whim came upon her.

Pan Fried Red Snapper with Tarragon Tartar Sauce

I remember those tiny delicate filets with their crisp brown exterior and the tender white flesh hidden inside. It wasn't until years later when I was a line cook at a small French restaurant, where we served breaded pan-fried walleye, that I truly understood how great this dish can be. It's a classic French bistro dish if there ever was one, and a method of cooking loved the world over and embedded in every culture.

We had a specific way to cook the fresh walleye at the restaurant. We used clarified butter and bread crumbs made from stale croissants and sourdough that we sifted after it was ground to ensure a fine and uniform crumb. It was amazing.

I've made this dish over a thousand times while on the line and never have I found a better, to my liking at least, way of cooking it. Every time, and I mean every time, as I take the first bite I always think of my grandmother, her cast iron fryer on the stove, and her standing over it in her apron, making a Sunday dinner for the whole family.

Sunday Menu:

Pan Fried Red Snapper with Tarragon Tartar Sauce
For the tarragon tartar sauce:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoon minced cornichons
2 pickled onions from the cornichons jar, minced
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
salt and fresh ground pepper
For the fish:
4 six-ounce red snapper filets or walleye, skin removed
2 Udi's plain bagels, set out overnight to stale then ground in a food processor and sifted, or plain breadcrumbs
1 cup Cup4Cup gluten free flour
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 egg
3/4 cup whole milk
See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Sautéed Zucchini with Basil Leaves
10 small zucchini and summer squash, preferably from your garden, cut into 3/8 inch rounds
olive oil or butter
8 basil leaves
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Fresh Herb and Vinegar Potato Salad
4 cups Yukon gold potatoes
3 to 4 cloves of fresh garlic
1 tablespoon French whole grain mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons chives, minced
2 teaspoons tarragon, minced
2 teaspoons savory or thyme, minced
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
kosher salt and sea salt
olive oil
See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Third Floor Kitchen
    Third Floor Kitchen
  • Lizthechef
  • MrsWheelbarrow
  • lastnightsdinner
  • thirschfeld
Father, husband, writer, photojournalist and not always in that order.


Third F. July 3, 2012
I loved reading this and immediately thought of Grandma Ruby, who lived in a sleepy Missouri town and made raspberry preserves in her steaming kitchen on her amazing red enameled stove. Thanks for heaping me to remember!
Third F. July 3, 2012
Sorry, I meant "helping me to remember".
thirschfeld July 4, 2012
you welcome, I wouldn't mind a jar of those preserves I bet they were really good!
Lizthechef July 3, 2012
A beautiful post, Tom. If I were clever I would share similar photos of my grandmother. Gosh, why weren't girls encouraged to smile? My mother, until her death, never stopped talking about Michigan "sunfish", still a mystery to me, despite having lived in the Midwest for 6 years...Lovely work here.
thirschfeld July 4, 2012
Thanks Lizthechef, as far as smiling in photos. In my grandmothers case I don't think she liked her teeth and photos had to be taken with slow shutter speeds so the subject had to stand very still. She was a very happy person and smiled and laughed often but, yes, I wish the photo reflected her happiness a little more then it did.
MrsWheelbarrow July 3, 2012
My early childhood Ohio memories are filled with lake perch fried up like that. What an evocative post. Thanks, Tom and happy Fourth.
thirschfeld July 4, 2012
MrsWheelbarrow somehow I missed you grew up in Ohio. Thanks and you have a great 4th too!
lastnightsdinner July 3, 2012
Beautiful, Tom. I have no complaints about the seafood we get here on the east coast, but there's nothing like pan-fried lake perch :)
thirschfeld July 4, 2012
Thank you lastnightsdinner. It is one thing I wish we had more of here in the midwest but it is how it goes.