16 August 2007

Babci's Kitchen

My grandmothers could not have been different.

On my mother's side was a woman whose sauté pan never needed cleaning, so to speak, and whose every dish tasted primarily of gravy.

And on my father's side was a woman who woke at 7AM to start cooking dinner.

Let's concentrate on the latter for this post.

Though born in the US, Babci had been taken back to Poland as an infant and had grown up there. She returned to Jersey City as a teenager and lived most of her life along the wake of the filthy Hudson.

Somewhere along the line she'd learned to cook.

Her dinners were nothing less than legendary. A salad of cucumbers and onion in a thick tart sauce followed by a strapping chicken soup with carrots and noodles where the long, thin strips of chicken would just fall apart in your mouth. Then came the pirogues. Followed by the kielbasa. Followed by the sauerkraut. Followed by more kielbasa. Followed by a sprig of white grapes as a palate cleanser.

And then she brought out dinner.

How in the heck did people eat like this? They didn't have any money, and everything she made was like a subtle reflection upon that fact. The ground sausage ubiquitous, but never a single piece of meat that even remotely resembled anything related to anatomy. The sauerkraut steeped in vinegar that would just last for days and days and days. The bone marrow that comprised the chicken broth.

And yet she would make these enormous, labor-intensive meals every day.

Her kitchen was like a sauna. I have memories of her sweltering in that tiny room, listening on the TV to the priest on the local church show. In the harsh light of mid-afternoon, that room became a site for metaphysical kung-fu.

And she never once said a word in defiance of that heat. She'd just go in there and chop chop, knead knead.

That kitchen was so much more than a place to cook food. It was a daily theatre of war between my grandmother and demon reality.

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