The Dish Behind The Dish – My Story
“My Grandma Nan”
You know as well as I do that there is always a person in your childhood that has a hand in shaping you. More often than not I find, that person is not related to you by blood, but they love and care for you like they are. There was a special person in my life when I was a little “Peanut” who shaped my love of cooking, not to mention the fact that she got and understood my primary love language…quality time. There was nothing better as a kid than spending that quality time with the woman I called my Grandma. But her real name was Nan. This recipe for Candy Orange Slice Cake came from her upbringing. I’m glad she was my dad’s neighbor when he was growing up next door. I’m glad I knew her and I’m glad she loved me. This childhood recipe, like my Grandma Nan, was warm, sweet, cherished, loved, and simply DELISH!
Before I went to live in a Children’s Home when I was 10, my Grandma Nan was my best friend. I think she was in her 60′s then. There was no place I would have rather been than Nan’s house. I didn’t realize it until much later in my life, but Nan had the cutest white dog, Buffy, that looked like a snow ball. Buffy, I would find out later, was a Bichon Frise. Nan would sit on the couch with me and sing while she played an instrument that looked like a cross between a very small harp and a tiny piano. She laid it on her lap and strummed it while she pressed what looked like piano keys. I didn’t know what it was called, but I remember lying on the couch with Buffy just listening to Nan to play and sing for hours. I’d always fall asleep listening and she’d wake me up from the couch and guide me around the floor furnace to her feather bed. Buffy would follow and jump on the bed to lay on top of my head on the pillow. I loved that dog! I later got my own beloved Bichon, St. Vincent La Fleur – or “Vinnie” for short.
On Saturday mornings, Nan would make me breakfast as normal Grandmas would. But my Grandma would make me Pineapple Fritters. That was my favorite breakfast food at the time, like only she could make. She showed me how to make them one morning and let me whip up a batch and she taught me how to make our coffee. As it turns out, the recipe for these pineapple fritters called for 1 cup of self-rising flour, one cup of sugar, 1 cup of milk (a little more if you need it, she’d say), and a small can of drained crushed pineapple. You just mix it all up and drop it by the spoonful into hot oil until they are done in the middle and brown. She’d then drop them into a bag of powdered sugar while they were still warm. As a kid, I called them Pineapple Hush Puppies. I remember many mornings of being covered in powdered sugar when she forgot to save a brown bag for our breakfast!
Another fond memory of Nan was after every Thanksgiving. Starting the Saturday night after Thanksgiving, Nan would make sure to get the huge Sears Wish Book catalog! Remember those? They were about 3 inches thick and full of everything you could possibly imagine! She would sit me down at the kitchen table with my very own, fresh-out-of-the-package legal pad and a brand new pen with an eraser on it. Nan and I would just talk like grown-ups and listen to her old-time radio for hours and hours as I went through that catalog page by page writing down every single thing I wanted from it – mostly home furnishings and decorations for the house “I would have when I was big”.
After I made my massive list – complete with page numbers and prices – she would have me add it all up on a calculator to see the damage. She would always say, “Peanut, you’ve certainly been that good to get everything on your list, but there are a lot of people we know who can’t afford one thing on that list – what should we do about that?” Of course I would always just circle 2 or 3 things on my list for myself and then start a new list of people we knew who were less fortunate and who could use the things that I had picked out from the catalog. Who of our less fortunate friends would appreciate the massive KitchenAid Mixer from my list? LOL!! Even though we couldn’t buy all those things for all those people, it was a great time with my Grandma trying to figure out who would love each thing on my list. It’s such an awesome memory for me at Christmas! I think about my Grandma a lot to this day. She was the most independent woman I have ever met in my life!
When I was about 24, my Grandma had a stroke and was placed in a nursing home. Her memory would come and go and she couldn’t speak, no matter how hard she tried. Every time I would visit her there, she would have a doll that she played with. I would sit with her and pretend to have tea and feed “her baby”. Nan would have me brush her long, gray hair and put a new diaper on her baby before I left. I know her memory was not the best, but she cried every time she saw me and every time I left. I know she recognized me. I couldn’t help but remember the times she had brushed my hair and told me stories about my dad living next door to her. Nan always wanted us to spend more time with dad when we were younger. She would do her best to tell me funny tales about him as a kid. I know now that it was to keep some kind of connection between us. She’d say, “Peanut, sometimes people just have to find their own way.” I remember those words to this day, although I seem to forget them when I need to remember them most.
When I was 30, after having grown up in a Children’s Home, my dad and I decided to do something together for the first time in my life. We built my house in Oldham County TOGETHER. We made a pact to talk and to connect after all those years. We would do as much of the house as we could without hiring contractors, with the goal being to spend as much time together as possible. For 3 months, that’s what we did. We talked about Nan many of those times sitting on the concrete slab that would later become my covered front porch when we were finished.
As dad and I were finishing my house, we were talking about Nan’s Candy Orange Slice Cake and all his memories attached to it. The odd thing was, Nan passed away while we were building my house. I guess her job here was done. Dad and I started to patch our relationship and it continues to this day. I had finally finished the house I had always talked about while sitting at her kitchen table picking out furnishings from the Sears Wish Book catalog. My mom gave me a folder with Nan’s recipes about 5 years ago and I’ve been making this recipe ever since. There’s nothing like the memories of people you love who have passed away. For me, there’s nothing like making my Grandma Nan’s Candy Orange Slice Cake for the holidays for those people I love who are still around me.
I hope you, too, can create a magical family memory with Nan’s recipe. This one comes from the heart and soul of who I am – it comes from my Grandma Nan, and this memory is way beyond DELISH!