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Why is it that no one can cook like Grandma anymore? That’s the question posed by comedian Meg Favreau, who wrote Little Old Lady Recipes, honoring the types of women who frequent church socials and small-town potluck dinners, and, of course, the lard-filled dishes they bring with them. “Classic little old lady cooking is simple,” says Favreau. “There’s this sense today that in order to easily make good-tasting food, you need to buy all of these extra kitchen gizmos or else have the professional kitchen skills of a smiling, manic Food Network personality. That’s bunk. Recipes like homemade, from-scratch spaghetti and meatballs might take some time to cook, but they’re incredibly easy to prepare.”
Favreau also notes that old lady cooking is frugal. “Traditional grandma dishes like chicken and dumplings have been used for years to stretch expensive foods like chicken into a meal that can feed a full family for cheap,” she says. “And old lady dishes make damn good potluck fodder.” And so you’ll find dishes like goulash, liver and onions, and baked beans deluxe alongside simple breakfast pancakes, coffee cake, ambrosia, and applesauce. Not to mention Favreau’s own grandmother’s staples. “I included my grandmother’s pie crust and jellyroll recipes, both of which I credit for making me a dessert snob,” she says. “The first instruction for the jellyroll in the book — that you need to wear sneakers because you have to move fast — is taken verbatim from the recipe my grandma wrote down for my father.”
Photographer Michael Reali found the majority of women profiled in the book, including several of his relatives, but one woman, Dobrila, the cook at a small Eastern European restaurant in Philadelphia called Jovan’s Place, ended up being the duo’s favorite. “She made us ustipke (a recipe featured in the book), which are these awesome bits of fried dough. We stuffed ourselves with them and enjoyed house-infused blackberry cordial while talking about how her husband makes the sausages for the restaurant himself.”
Best of all, one is never too young to cook like an old lady! Here’s a classic from Little Old Lady Recipes that will get you cooking like an old-timer in no time.
Did you know ambrosia means “food of the gods”? What a silly name for a fruit salad. I mean, it’s good, but have the gods never tried lobster? Serve this delight as buffet-style meals where people can choose to eat it as either a side dish or light dessert.
1 cup sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
½ cup grated coconut
Cut the pineapple into 1-inch slices, then pare and twist off pieces with a strong fork. Pare the oranges and grapefruit and separate into sections, removing membrane between. Sprinkle with 1 cup sugar and lemon juice. Chill in icebox several hours. When ready to serve, mix with the coconut.
Makes 10 to 15 servings.