Skillets & Spiders

This post is part one in a three part series on food

I’ve been writing a lot about working in the woods, and a little about interviews with my grandmother, and I can’t leave out the food. My grandmother was a great cook and good food was important for working outside all day.

Emma Ameden, my grandmother

One thing I loved about growing up on the farm was having our big meal at midday and everyone wherever they were working would come in and we’d all sit down together and eat.

My favorite meals my grandmother would make were Swedish meatballs, and the macaroni and cheese that she always had for family get togethers – it was baked with crumpled up saltines, very white, and it always tasted the same. And her skillet dinners. Grammy always called her big frying pans “skillets” and the smaller ones “spiders”, I don’t know why. The skillet dinner had hamburger, noodle pasta, and her own seasonings. I still make those skillet dinners but they don’t taste the same.

When I was a kid what I loved most were her desserts, especially the blonde brownies, where she put every chocolate chip in flat side up, and her raw refrigerator dough cookies (which weren’t really cookies; she left her cookie dough in the fridge and I could get my hands on it before she could bake it). She made wonderful pies, all kinds of pies, and a great cake with her Aunt Bessy’s maple frosting that was just egg whites and maple syrup.

Ready to eat!

I am holding up my catch. Grandpa and brother Don are still fishing in the background. (1967)

We’d have a big breakfast too. If it were during fishing season, she’d cook us trout. She made great Western egg sandwiches. She would cook oatmeal and cream of wheat and any kind of egg that you’d want. After the big breakfast and midday meal, there was just a light supper. On Sunday nights I remember having Johnnycake and milk with maple syrup on it.

I remember the food from growing up mostly because it was something that brought the family together. The farm had my grandmother and grandfather, my uncles, my father, my mom, and of course me and my brother and sister, we all worked on the farm.

Cooking is something I still enjoy. For one thing, it makes a difference when you’re working outside all day. I still like a big breakfast before I work in the woods. I have a real soft spot for potatoes, so oftentimes I’ll figure out an egg concoction around my potatoes – and I’ll throw in slow cooked oatmeal with lots of toppings, or pancakes leftover from the big batches I make each Sunday. If I have people working for me I often make a larger meal for midday too; I’ll throw a roast or a chicken on the wood cookstove and let it simmer away all morning with some vegetables in it and at noontime I’ll spice it up and serve it with skillet cornbread.

Nate, who has been working with me this winter, always says “Will, I like working with you because I don’t ever need to pack a lunch.”

My own cooking space (2011)

I can pull off something good most days with food from this farm. Even in winter, I have meat in the freezer, potatoes, onions, pumpkins, squash. A lot of this food is thanks to Shane and Christy at Dancing Carrot Farm who rent garden space from me for their market garden. They are going to be selling meat from the Black Angus I raised when their traveling farmstand starts traveling again this summer.

For a much plainer kind of food traditions, look for my next post on what I learned to cook doing Civil War reenactments . . .


One response to “Skillets & Spiders

  1. Here is the link for the term “spider” when referring to a pan.
    Maybe it was the shape of the smaller pan the reminded her of a pan with legs. Maybe her grandmother cooked with a spider pan and she just kept the term.

    We had an ice-box because that is the term my grandmother used to call the fridge. I still use that term, much to the humor of my daughters.

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