Andrea Chaffin: Dinner — it’s all in the details

Andrea Chaffin: Dinner — it’s all in the details

By Andrea Chaffin

Having heard enough of our weekly squabble over who got to use the pink plate (representing whether my sister or I would be the Pink Power Ranger, in our minds), my grandmother was smart when she created the rule.

Whoever used the pink plate had to go down into the basement and fetch a jar for dinner. It was enough of a sacrifice to make us take turns on who would settle on being the Yellow Power Ranger that night.

The basement — with its dark-colored carpet, a painting of “The Last Supper” and a loud washer and dryer — was the scariest room in the house. In the room farthest from the stairs was where Grandma stored her treasures: shelf after shelf of home-packed Mason jars filled with tomatoes, grape juice, soup-starters, jellies, green beans, applesauce, corn, wine and potatoes.

But whoever emerged from the basement with the jar — usually in a full sprint — received the coveted pink plate for the evening. Grandma had a set of four plates: one pink, blue, yellow and green. It wasn’t fancy — actually, they may have been plastic — but I remember those plates.

Just like I remember those cardboard-colored brown salad bowls. They were wide and shallow. Dinner typically featured iceberg lettuce salads, dressed casually with onion slices which I was careful to eat around, large tomato wedges, shredded cheddar cheese and imitation bacon bits.

The drinking glasses were nothing fancy, either. Medium-sized with a diamond-shaped etching at the bottom. A “bendy straw” was always added to my cup.

The table was often draped in something seasonal. But in between holidays, Grandma used a yellow cloth — not an actual fabric, but something easy to wipe off after her two granddaughters’ departure. I remember tucking it between my knees as I twisted my cream-colored wheeled chair to the left and right until someone would yell at me to stop.

The crystal-shaped salt and pepper shakers with the stainless steel tips were always there, too, as well as the white butter dish, which, during the day, sat on the counter in case someone needed some soft cream to thickly smear on a crusty slice of white toast for a snack.

There was also the square-shaped, thick, plastic Tupperware container filled with homemade cookies — usually applesauce or oatmeal raisin, because chocolate chip cookies were made on a pizza pan. They were cool to the touch from being pulled from the freezer.

The small sugar dish with its special sugar spoon. That spoon — technically a tea spoon — belonged to Grandma’s mom, she once told me.

But the dish I remember most was used mostly during summers: the corn dish.

Raised on a farm and a child of the Depression, Grandma didn’t waste anything and she took advantage of the garden surplus during summer.

I recall playing on the swing set in the backyard and hearing the door spring open. Wearing a pair of short shorts and a tube top, Grandma — sometimes with a Klondike Bar in her hand — would walk over to the flower bed around the perimeter of the house. She was just a “young buck” then — about 70 or so — so she would easily bend down and pluck a green onion plant from the soil, wipe the small white bulb on her shorts and take a bite.

CRUNCH.

She liked to serve corn, which she picked up from local farmers on the side of the road and brought home in big brown paper bags. I would climb into the glider on the back porch and help her shuck them. My favorite part was using the bristled brush to clean stubborn fibers from between the kernels.

Into the big silver pot they would go. Then, each ear was placed in its own corn-shaped dish, which was painted like an ear of corn.

Grandma would place a generous pat of butter in each dish, and stab a corn-shaped holder on each end of the ear. It was up to me to roll my corn through the butter, shaking on salt and pepper as it turned. It was my own corn rotisserie.

I think of those dishes every time I make corn at home. It makes me nostalgic, and then guilty, when I place the corn on the plate and pick it up with my fingers.

So, I’m on the search for my own antique corn dishes and holders. Every time I browse a thrift store or yard sale I look for a set.

I visited Grandma, now 93, at the nursing home last week. She was picking at her lunch.

“Do you remember the suppers I used to cook?” she asked.

“Yes,” I answered. “I remember every detail.”

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Grandma always used plain butter on corn on the cob, but have you ever tried making a compound butter? Make a batch at a time — especially during the summer — and use it on all your favorite grilled meats, vegetables and breads.

GARLIC BUTTER

Ingredients:

1 cup butter, softened

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions:

In a small bowl, combine softened butter, minced garlic and parmesan cheese. Season with garlic salt, Italian seasoning and pepper. Mix until smooth. Place in plastic wrap and form into a tube. Place back in refrigerator to cool. Slice off as needed.

HERB BUTTER

Ingredients:

Big pinch steak seasoning

1 stick (1/2 cup) salted butter, softened to room temperature

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely minced

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely minced

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

1 garlic clove, pressed or minced

Directions:

Combine ingredients in a bowl, then stir with a fork to combine. Scoop herb butter onto a sheet of plastic wrap, then shape into a thick log and refrigerate until firm (if time is of the essence, you can freeze for 20-30 minutes.) Can be done ahead of time.

(Recipe from iowagirlseats.com.)

Andrea Chaffin is the food editor of Salt magazine and the editor of The Madison Press. She can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1619 or via Twitter @AndeeWrites.

Salt Magazine