Food & family

Thanks to FaceBook and e-mail, I’ve reconnected with cousins who were once a part of every trip to my mother’s mother’s hometown in northern New Jersey. Their father and my mother were first cousins but even though I’ve lived in the South for more than 30 years, I don’t know if that means we’re first cousins once removed or second cousins.

Shot from staircase in my grandmother's house, my cousin Amy (left) and I unpack my new nurse's kit and treat her doll for an unspecified ailment.

 Amy is the oldest of three children of Mother’s cousin Ted and his glamorous wife Flo. Besides being fun and exotic (Amy inherited her beautiful tip-tilted eyes) to the wasp-ish Lawrences, Flo was a memorably good cook in a sea of good cooks. Amy and I have been e-mailing about Flo’s meatballs, her mustard sauce and her winter squash casserole. (If my fuzzy memory serves, Flo was born in Burma, the daughter of missionaries and also fixed the first curry I ever ate. However, those details could also be from a movie I once saw.)

We shared a formidable great-grandmother, Josephine Ward Lawrence, and holiday dinners spread across mahogany tables the size of cow pastures. I remember Amy’s  brother Philip under one of these tables at my great-aunt Charlotte’s on a Christmas Eve, cramming into his mouth as many of those meatballs as possible.  When one of the proper old folks asked if he weren’t going to have a proper plate with a proper balanced meal (on Christmas Eve!!), Flo pulled the little boy into her lap and said he was getting protein. She was ahead of her time.

I just came across my mother’s typewritten recipe for Flo’s Meatballs. It’s decorated with a perky aqua ’50s housewife, and, of course, sleeved in a plastic protector. A note says that you can get 50 meatballs from every pound of ground beef.

Flo’s Meatballs

Sauce: 3/4 cup catsup

1 tablespoon dried minced onion

Cayenne pepper

Minced garlic

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup water

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 cup salad or tarragon vinegar

1 teaspoon salt or soy sauce

Dash Tabasco

Meatballs: 1 pound lean ground beef

1/2 cup breadcrumbs (Italian if you have them)

2 beaten eggs

1-1/2 tablespoons dried minced onion

1 teaspoon horseradish

Dash Tabasco

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons water

My mother’s directions say to mix up the meatball ingredients, “adding water a bit at a time, “fry and dry on paper towels.” I would probably bake them in a 400º oven for 8 to 10 minutes before draining. I’d mix up the sauce in a slow cooker and add the cooked meatballs.

Thinking of these makes me see in my mind’s eye our great-grandmother in a black coat with the collar turned up, backlit by the porch light against the swirling snow, standing like Anastasia’s grandmother in Great Uncle Frederick’s doorway on another Christmas Eve. Good times.

Pretty Amy a few years later



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