Close your eyes and see your grandmother’s table. Do you remember the shape of it, the people who sat around it? What of the dishes used to plate and serve the food? Were those times jolly or serious?
My mind fills with a large oval table, lace curtains pulled back from a triple pane dining room window looking out on the garden and the berry bushes, the bird feeder. I remember the many dishes on the table. The wide sturdy table and its chairs filled the whole room, except for one corner where a standing cabinet with a Victrolla occupied the space. We were seated and ready to eat when Grandpa tucked a huge napkin into his shirt collar beneath his double chin and bestowed a smile on all of us, while he ask my father to say a word of prayer. Everyone was dressed in Sunday-best.
Each place setting included a dinner plate, a bread plate, a sauce dish. There were goblets, juice glasses and silverware, two forks, a knife and two spoons, in addition to a butter knife laid across the bread plate. I no longer have the glass salt cellars that set at each place. When the relish dish was passed and guests took radishes and celery, we could dip in our very own salt dish to season each bite, if we wished. I remember, too, how many serving dishes were passed, the gravy boat, and a huge meat platter holding what my grandmother almost always served at Sunday dinner, roast chicken.
You may be thinking: What was the use of all those dishes? In addition to the platter of chicken, there were mashed potatoes, heaped high in a large round serving bowl and cream gravy in the gravy boat. Learning to handle the gravy boat, pouring the gravy on one’s potatoes and setting it back on its own oval platter to pass to the next person was part of eating at Grandma’s on a Sunday.
Numerous vegetables arrived at the table: green beans, creamed peas, creamed corn, and the relish tray with fresh and pickled vegetables. Pickled peaches were considered a treat. Bread and butter were always served along with some kind of jam. My mother’s fluffy dinner rolls, perhaps the most popular item with all ages. There was sauce for your sauce-dish, different at different meals: applesauce, canned peaches, heated canned tomatoes, cooked rhubarb sauce, perhaps with strawberries in summertime. Such an array of different foods. I loved all the choices, and finding my favorites.
Was there dessert? Oh, yes. My mother baked and brought pies. Grandmother stirred up and baked a cake with cooked frosting. White was her favorite, or angel food with ice cream and sauce. The sauce was made from fruit, fresh or canned. Chocolate was rare at her table. Two desserts were usual.
My grandparents kept a large garden, and they canned and canned and canned. I was often sent to the cellar to find a jar of something. Shelf upon shelf was filled with colorful glass jars. They lived in a small central Iowa town. They had little money. I now understand that nothing was as important to them as having family at Sunday dinner, and especially in the summer or at a holiday meal, they filled the table as generously as anyone can imagine.
Yes, there were many dirty dishes, and many hands to wash those dishes. Dishpans and hot water from the stove were part of the process. All woman and children helped. I do remember Grandma sitting at the kitchen table during part of the task. Now I realize how she must have longed for a bit of rest. The men dozed on the porch.
When the dishes were clean, dried and stacked on the table, we children played a piano selection or spoke a piece we had memorized. Sometimes we read a Bible passage if we had nothing memorized. As you may imagine, our audience was enthusiastic, especially Grandma and Mother. But my father always insisted we do our part by providing the entertainment of the afternoon. Because the house was stucco and had a large porch and mature trees in front, the living room was often cool, something of a respite after the dishes in the warm kitchen, which I remember as having a wood stove.
Today, I wish I could be there again to more carefully observe everything. When I was a child, like most children, I wanted to go home as soon as possible, or to sneak off upstairs with my book.
I know, you, too have memories of eating at Grandmother’s table. Readers would love to hear your comments.
Note: Special thanks to cousin Marilee Massari for sending some of Grandma’s dishes my way. The crystal goblet and the butter knife are the only pictured items not from Grandmother’s table, most purchased at the time she married in 1909. The goblet belonged to my parents, but is tall as were those on Grandma’s table. My brother and sister and cousins may have different memories. I hope they will send them along.