My grandma Esther passed away in April and between packing, moving, and unpacking (do you see a theme here?) I didn't have a chance to write a post to honor her. This is a shame because so many of my first food memories and my passion for food come from time spent with her. Even though it's been over a month since she passed away, I still wanted to write a post not only to honor the hard working, loving, proud woman she was and always will be in my heart, but also to document my memories of her so they live on forever.
I remember spending afternoons in her kitchen making homemade noodles, which were bound to be made into homemade chicken noodle soup. The thing about my grandma is that if (when?) I did something wrong in the kitchen, she wasn't afraid to let me know it. If I tried shoving the pasta dough in through the machine too fast, she let me know. So now, when I go to make pasta on my own, I remember her.
I remember watching her make that chicken noodle soup that we made the noodles for, pulling the meat from the chicken bones and being disgusted and in awe at the same time of her dirty work. She wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty in the kitchen and so when I get a little dough or chicken grease underneath my fingernails, I think of her.
I remember that special day we spent together making Czech kolaches. A time consuming process as most yeast breads are, teaching me the importance of patience in the kitchen. I also vividly remember the moment that she pulled out not butter, not shortening, but LARD to make those kolaches. Best kolaches, ever.
I remember hot summer afternoons picking new potatoes and carrots from her garden, and turning around to cook and eat them for dinner, along with pork cutlets and probably creamed corn from the can. Again, we got our hands dirty but nothing tastes as good as eating the fruits of your own labor so now whenever I eat the tomatoes and herbs in my garden, I think of her.
I remember spending Christmas Eve at her and my grandpa's house, where she would make chili and oyster stew every. single. year. The kids would run around, poking the singing Santa's red nose while the adults would play cards with A Christmas Story in the background. It was always one of my favorite nights of the year so now every Christmas Eve when A Christmas Story is running for 24 hours straight, I think of her.
I remember Easter Sunday with my grandma's ham, sometimes there would be duck, and always, always, always potato dumplings smothered in gravy. To finish it off she made her signature bunny cake, which I always got a kick out of. I hope to carry on this tradition and make a bunny cake every year so that every Easter I am reminded of her.
One of my all-time favorite memories of my grandma is picking rhubarb from her garden, where there was never a shortage of rhubarb this time of year. Last weekend when I spied some gorgeous rhubarb at the farmers market, I knew I had to pick some up for dessert that night. My grandma made an amazing rhubarb cake and of course rhubarb crisp, but this time I wanted to do something a little different. This vanilla pound cake with rhubarb compote is what I came up with and I loved every bite of it.
The tart rhubarb compote really let the flavor of the rhubarb shine through, without too much sugar masking it's flavor, taking me straight back to rhubarb crisps and cakes straight from grandma's oven. The pound cake is adapted from a King Arthur recipe, and is simple yet stunning, with flavors of vanilla and almond and a moist, tender crumb. I used Nielsen-Massey's Vanilla Bean Paste, which is my go-to vanilla product for baked goods where I want the vanilla to shine through, especially the vanilla bean specks, along with Nielsen-Massey's Almond Extract for a hint of almond flavor. I am a huge fan of almond extract so I loved that hint of almond flavor, but you could also add a bit of lemon or orange extract if you want a fruitier flavor.
To top it off, I went all trashy and used Cool Whip (confession: I love the stuff! It's my guilty pleasure) but of course you could be all fancy and make your own from scratch. Here's one of my favorite recipes for homemade whipped cream. Every component of this recipe could be made ahead of time, which meant that all we had to do after dinner was slice the pound cake and top with rhubarb compote and whipped cream. The sweet pound cake with the tart rhubarb were delicious together and topped with the whipped cream (or um, Cool Whip), it was a perfect late spring/early summer dessert.