*For My Grandmother*
I always childishly hoped my grandmother would be with me forever.
My first memories begin with her, and even though it’s been over 25 years since her death, I still can’t believe I’ve had to learn to live without her.
She was born in Spain and came to Colombia, South America when she was four years old. She learned to cook from her Spaniard mother, and these are the recipes I grew up with. When I was about three or four years old, I began helping my grandmother in the kitchen. She would tie one of her flowered aprons around my waist, and I would stand next to her on top of a cracked red leather kitchen stool. She would sing in a soft and low voice as she’d grind the corn meal for our sweet corn cakes, one of my favorites. With a worn rock from our yard, she’d grind the corn meal until it was as fine as white flour. The sand paper sound of the rock crushing the larger bits of meal is one that I can still hear if I close my eyes. When the corn meal was as smooth as silt, together, her hands over mine, we’d slowly add the milk and eggs, mixing all the ingredients together in a large wooden bowl.
With the thick meal ready, we’d roll the dough mixture into little balls, pressing them down into the palms of our hands until they were flat discs. She had a large cast iron pan with just a bottom of oil heating up on the stove. To check if the oil was hot enough for the griddle cakes, she’d wet her fingers from the kitchen faucet and then flick the water into the pan. If we heard a sizzle, then we knew the oil was ready. She’d toss the flattened patties in, and I’d hear the hiss of a pan that was perfectly calibrated.
We'd fry the corn cakes until they were a pale gold, and then my grandmother would lift them out deftly while my job was to lay them between paper towels, pressing down with my small hands to squeeze out the extra grease. While they were still hot, we’d spread the cakes with butter and apricot jam, and the two would melt on top into a sticky sweet syrup. We’d sit grinning and eating those cakes that were almost as large as a salad plate. I’d always take a stack of two or three and my grandmother would say "Your eyes are bigger than your stomach, mija!"
There's so much more time to tell her what I want to tell her, that was always my thinking. My grandmother is gone now, and even though it’s been so very long, I still can’t write about her without tears stinging my eyes and a lump starting to build in my throat. But, somehow, I have this hope--that through the shining dark eyes of a grinning four-year-old girl, gazing up at her adoringly, clothed in one of her aprons while standing on a kitchen stool next to her, that she knew how much she meant to me.
Abuelita’s Corn Meal Griddle Cakes
1 c. boiling water
3/4 c. yellow corn meal
1 c. buttermilk or sour milk
1 c. all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. soda
/4 c. vegetable oil
Pour water over corn meal; stir until thick. Add milk; beat in eggs. Mix flour, baking powder, salt and soda. Add to cornmeal mixture; stir in oil. Bake on hot, lightly greased griddle. Makes about 14 pancakes.
Place on paper towel to absorb oil. While still hot, spread with butter and jam.