Saturday, February 5, 2011
My Grandmother's Cookbook
Remembering My Grandmother
Frederika and Karl Mencke began their family in Kiel, Germany in 1880, with the birth of a daughter they named Wilhelmina. When little Mina was 18 months old, they traveled to America to start a new life. They settled in St. Paul, where Karl worked as a brick layer and Frederika raised their five children in the family home on Winifred Street, on the west side. I never knew my grandma Minnie, as she was later called. She died five years before I was born. But by all accounts, Minnie was a spunky girl, vivacious and quick to laugh. She was also the first member of her family to speak English. A fast learner at school, she taught her younger brothers and sisters at home.
Minnie graduated from Humboldt High School, a remarkable accomplishment for a girl in those days. After graduation, she started work at the Golden Rule Department Store, located at 7th and Minnesota Streets, in the Coat Department. Minnie was popular with customers and employees alike and was moved to Better Dresses. Not long after that, she was promoted to Assistant Buyer, a wonderful opportunity, and went on buying trips to New York City. In 1916, Minnie was one of the Winter Carnival princesses. That same year, she met and married my grandfather, Frank. Minnie and Frank had two children, a son they named Frank II and two years later, a daughter, my mother Jeanne. Their marriage lasted twenty-six short years, until Minnie's untimely death at age sixty-two in 1942.
Recently, I spent an afternoon with my mother, talking about those long ago days. Mom reminisced about her mother, especially the things she liked to cook, then brought out her mother's well-worn cookbook. Most of the writing is barely legible, but I know there is a story on every tattered, spattered page. Holding my grandmother's cookbook in my hands was a special, almost spiritual, experience. She had held it in her hands many times. It was a link between us, spanning the generations. The cookbook was her collection of the recipes she made for her family, for their birthdays and holiday celebrations. Inside, there were recipes from her mother, my great-grandmother. There was a recipe for Monkey Faces, wonderful molasses cookies decorated with raisins, mom's favorite when she was a little girl, Pepper Relish, Ice Box Cookies, Chocolate Angel Food Cake, Sponge Cake and a recipe for Pecan Cake with a cup of whiskey in the batter. I came across Koenigsberger Klops, which I later found out were German meatballs. I held her memories in my hands and I felt a strong connection to a grandmother I never knew. I could tell that being a homemaker mattered to her. I knew she liked to entertain and serve beautiful food. And I know she loved her family, by the warm way my mother spoke about her.
Mom remembers her mother making Green Tomato Mincemeat for pies. Her brother Frank loved those pies. In my grandmother's day, when they made things like mincemeat, they made large quantities. Then they canned it for use all winter, when fresh fruits and vegetables were not readily available. I don't have any plans to actually make her mincemeat recipe. For now, it is enough to have it and know a little bit more about her, my grandma Minnie.
Grandma's Green Tomato Mincemeat for Pie
1 peck green tomatoes
1 peck apples
1 cup vinegar
6 pounds brown sugar (imagine, 6 pounds!)
2 pounds raisins
2 pounds currants
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons ground allspice
2 tablespoons ground cloves
2 tablespoons salt
Cook together for 3 hours. Can. Use for pies.