Sometimes when I wander into my kitchen, I just want to spend time with one who is no longer with us: My grandma. So I cook what she used to make.

And while I’m cooking, the memories of her seem to float around in my mind like little bits of gold treasure left hidden for so long, but there all along waiting to be reclaimed.

Jogged by a smell or a motion while I’m making green olive and walnut cream cheese spread for the bagels or by the apron I don before I move to pull out her mixing bowl, the comfort of her and the essence of her are again with me for a time. 

When I knew her, my grandma seemed always to be either in the kitchen or the garden. I’m sure that she was elsewhere in the house too, but that had to be when I was up in the attic exploring my uncle’s stamp collection or trying on my mom’s prom dresses, because I don’t recall her being anywhere else.

In the evening, she loved to play games, especially card games, and as a child it was a big event to beat her at tripoli, pinochle, Parcheesi or bridge.

When she was in the kitchen – which seemed to be all the time, according to the mind of my childhood – she made simple meals, which is perhaps why I loved her cooking so much. It was simple, unadorned and without a ton of vegetables. What could be better from a child’s point of view? 


Most of the baking would happen in the afternoon. She would often let us cook with her, but she cleaned the batter bowl so efficiently with just a wooden spoon, not even a spatula, that my brothers and I often opted for the attic on rainy days or the vast adventure of their expansive rural property with nooks and crannies to discover and trees galore to climb. 

On any given day as we would trounce in from hours of outdoor play with sun on our cheeks, the day’s adventure in our eyes and our discoveries in our outstretched hands to share, the smell of snickerdoodles, elderberry pie or strawberry jam would waft toward us from the kitchen and pull us toward a snack or toward anticipation of dinner dessert, depending on which baked good had just emerged from the oven.

The snack:



1 1/2 cups sugar


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

2 eggs

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt



2 tablespoons cinnamon

2 tablespoons sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream sugar and butter, then add the eggs one at a time. Sift the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt, and mix with the creamed mixture. You may need to work it a little with your hands. Mix the sugar and cinnamon. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls, and roll in the sugar and cinnamon mixture to coat. Bake 10 to 15 minutes.

Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies.



The dinner dessert:


Elderberries are best found by foraging in mid- to late summer. My grandma knew the best spots to find them in her area, and would take us picking suited up in Grandpa’s old button-down shirts rolled up at the cuffs and dragging down to our knees.

I am now looking forward to my first crop of elderberries in my garden this year. 

I’ve tried substituting other fresh berries in this pie, and while still delicious, you can understand how, for me, elderberries is the only way to go with this one. I can find frozen elderberries in the frozen section of the grocery store; my grandma used to freeze the extra and use them all year long. If using frozen berries, increase the cooking time by at least 15 minutes.

2 pie crusts for a 9-inch pie pan



2 cups elderberries

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2/3 cup sour cream

Pinch of salt


1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the pie-filling ingredients.

Roll out two pie crusts and press one into a pie pan with the edges overhanging. Put the pie filling into the crust and top with the second crust, pinching the edges decoratively. Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees, then reduce to 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes.

Servings: Six to eight


Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of “At Home, At Sea.” She can be reached at:


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