Reclaiming land, memory with local food

KItchen Corner Early 1960s 7-15

BRUSH WITH FAME: Elizabeth Glasgow (seated, far left) on the set of Marjorie Mariner’s cooking program, ‘Kitchen Corner,’ which was broadcast on WFMJ (Channel 21). The photo dates from the 1960s. Mariner was Glasgow’s great aunt.


Years ago I wrote a post for a mostly abandoned food blog called Rattlebox in which I waxed poetic about the wonders of the Northside Farmers Market. I’d found currants at Patty Brungard’s booth and bought them immediately. I hadn’t seen currants since the late sixties or early seventies when my maternal grandmother and I had made raspberry currant jam from the fruit in her garden.  

Being a Boardman girl, it was a wonder to me that people who lived in the city grew food in their yards, but my grandmother assured me that the family had stretched my grandfather’s railroad salary with produce from their Hollywood Avenue lot.

I don’t remember a great deal about either of my grandmothers, both of whom had passed by the early 1980s. What comes to mind immediately is how my memories of them, indeed my memories of most of my folks, are linked with preparing food for family.  

Both grandmothers lived on the South Side of Youngstown. The Glasgows had the larger lot, situated two doors down from Pleasant Grove Presbyterian Church, and it was planted with cherry trees, rhubarb and grapes. The narrow Davidson place on Hollywood was really packed with grapes, currants, raspberries and fruit trees, and they’d kept chickens in the garage.  

My grandmothers were my first introduction to the kitchen. When my brother and I visited Grandma Glasgow, I recall that she, a good Missouri-born cook, kept a can of leftover bacon grease on the kitchen counter and propped her broken oven door closed with a kitchen chair. Unable to say no to her grandchildren, she also allowed my brother and me to dress in my father’s old clothes and paint the inside of the doghouse. 

Mom was a reluctant La Choy and Bisquick sort of cook who tried to prepare meals for her ungrateful children between teaching, keeping house and taking care of elderly relatives. She adhered to popular dishes from the “Angels and Friends” cookbook – barbecue beef, Pretzel Salad and a creation fondly referred to as “meatlump.” 

It was Grandma Glasgow who taught me to cook Thanksgiving dinner, and Grandma Davidson who set the bar for homemade cookies, jams and pies. I still have several of Grandma Davidson’s recipe cards, typed, written out in pen and ink, or clipped from my Great Aunt Marjorie Mariner’s recipe column that ran in the Vindicator.

Aunt Marjorie also had a television cooking program called “Kitchen Corner” that was broadcast on WFMJ when I was a kid. Somewhere I have a photo of Aunt Marge, my aunts and most of my cousins on the Davidson side, all seated around a table covered in punch cups and ham sandwiches on the set of her show. I imagine this was the least-interesting show ever to most viewers, but by the coquettish look on my 5-year-old face I’m sure I was thinking it was my introduction to celebrity.  

When we packed up the Hollywood house after my grandmother’s death, I found Mom weeping quietly over the patterned bottom of an old glass her mom had used to press a design into the tops of her cookies. It still contained a little cookie dough caught in the grooves.

Not all the food memories came from my grandmothers. My Dad’s sister, Aunt Jean, made creamed chicken with heavy cream and sherry, served in puff pastry cups for Sunday dinner following church. Another of her staples was a barbecue ham sandwich made from Isaly’s Chipped Chopped Ham and simmered in a ketchup-and-grape-jelly sauce. I’m sure it was a staple in many Youngstown kitchens of the 1960s.  

Each year for my birthday my sister, Laurie, still makes a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for which she won a prize at the Canfield Fair. She cans her own bread-and-butter pickles, piccalilli, and strawberry preserves. Many of our holiday traditions came from the meals she has served over the last three decades, and no Christmas Eve is complete without her hors d’oeuvres table.  

My brother, Rich, has readily taken over Thanksgiving dinner for his side of the family. I still take credit for teaching him to cook the holiday meal, although the very first thing I did was to imbed a cleaver in my middle finger, causing me to spend the day with a bulbous gauze wrap on my hand. 

These days, work and obligations keep me from puttering in the kitchen as much as I’d like, and being single makes me lazy about creating actual meals. I contribute mostly side dishes and desserts to family holidays. Still, Laurie’s big aluminum canner is in my pantry, the kitchen drawers are filled with my grandmothers’ rolling pins, cookie cutters and egg timers, and Mom’s 1950 “Betty Crocker Cookbook” remains a staple. I overindulge in produce at the market at every opportunity, conceding to the fact that I’m a culinary sentimentalist who loves the idea of food grown close to home and the neighborhood farmers’ markets in the Yo that enable us to reclaim both land and memory.

© 2015 Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.

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  1. Karen Schubert says:

    Wonderful piece.


  2. My Mother and Aunt often talked about the recipes on the Marjorie Mariner’s cooking show. I’m sure my Aunt Amelia got a couple of NUT ROLL recipes from her.


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