The New Year’s Experiment
There is something so refreshing about starting a New Year. It is a time of new beginnings, reinvigorated dreams, and fresh starts. For some it is a continuation of traditions, like my family’s last sunset of the year viewing. New Years are full of hope and possibilities. Yet for many grieving folks, the flipping of the calendar page is a reminder of yet another year to endure without their beloved family member or friend. The New Year can be a poignant reminder that the “new normal” – a life with a hole in the heart, an absence in the fabric of day to day existence is still real and painful.
One of my people who has gone on to heaven before me is one that I miss every day, but feel her absence profoundly on New Year’s. My Nannie, my Floridian grandmother, loved a good New Year’s Day celebration complete with her big family dinner. There was every kind of Southern favorite imaginable but my favorites were the ham, her signature Kraft mac-n-cheese which only she could make the way she did, cornbread, Hawaiian salad (mine taken from the end without coconut for me and my Aunt Nernie) and black-eyed peas. Although on that last one, you might have been putting your life at risk, because my Nannie was nothing if not superstitious. Walk around a pole differently than the rest of the group and you would need a chiropractor adjustment after she was through with jerking backwards to walk on the other side like everyone else. Some families have pineapple as a sign of good fortune, but Nannie’s specialty was the black-eyed peas with their own special seasoning – a dime in the pot of legumes.
Trust me, you might want to swirl your fork in your pile of peas before chomping down.
As we turned the calendar to a New Year this year, I was having a rough start – only it wasn’t from grief. My children had a bout with the stomach flu, my parents arrived in town and to prevent the gift that keeps on giving we had to send them to a local hotel. When the coast was clear, we gathered together to celebrate the holidays. We had planned a pork roast and mashed potatoes, but no black-eyed peas (my Dad despises them). As we were gathering our grocery list, I remembered something that I have held onto for the last four years waiting to give it a whirl.
The science teacher in me considered the cryptic recipe written in my Nannie’s handwriting an epic experiment. When Nannie passed, I stayed with my parents for a week to attempt to help them begin the journey of their new normal as caretakers of her estate. As I was going through her purse sorting through items for my Mom, I found a little notebook and the only thing written in the notebook was this recipe. If you had known my Nannie, you would have chuckled just like I did, because this scribbling would have been very clear to her, but to the rest of us it was somewhat intriguing. I asked my Mom if I could keep it because someday I would like to attempt to piece it all together.
That someday was just last week. After some online culinary sleuthing, I deduced that 2 cans “c” had to mean corn and the unnamed recipe was for a corn casserole. Of course, it took a little guesswork to decipher the rest of her notations, but in the end, we (my Mom, Daniel and I) came up with a pretty good finished product. If the fact that the casserole dish was scraped clean in the end was any indicator of our success, I think we would have made her proud.
Nannie’s Corn Surprise (Translated Recipe)
2 cans corn (we used one drained whole corn and one creamed corn)
1/2 cup milk (notice Nannie’s notation for a 1/2)
3 tbsp sugar
2/3 cup flour (we decided that the recipe needed more flour)
1/2 tsp salt AND pepper
2 tbsp bubbly (which since Nannie wasn’t a drinker we decided was Sprite)
Bake at 325 for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Ours was set somewhere right in between the two time frames.
At this point, we were saying to ourselves, hoping this works, but if it doesn’t at least these weren’t the most expensive ingredients.
Adding the bubbly was a lot of fun. Some great food science going on here!
I will admit we might have uttered something like, “Nannie, we are about to put this in the oven. If we missed anything, please help us out.” Since nothing came to mind or fell out of the cupboards, we guessed we were about as close as we could be. I absolutely love this casserole dish purchased in Valle Crucis, NC direct from the potter when my dad was coaching and teaching in Banner Elk.
It wasn’t her signature black-eyed peas, but with our little experiment, it felt like the woman who to me was larger than life was right there with us in my cozy kitchen on a frigid Minnesota day. She didn’t seem so far away as we tried to piece together her writing. There were many memories shared at the table that night and even though the people gathered all have holes in the hearts waiting to be plugged by the joys of heaven, on that night seated together, we felt whole.