Her way with ingredients was to use real stuff with every step: butter instead of margarine, actual eggs instead of that yellow stuff that comes in a milk carton. In her kitchen you weren't going to score much that was low-fat or that had the words "substitute for..." on the package.
You come to Grandma Nelson's house, you better come expecting to gain some padding for the winter. Hashtag sorry not sorry.
Blueberry seemed to be a favorite of hers. To be honest, I don't remember her making other kinds of muffins very often, if at all. The pans she used had cup sizes that allowed you to eat one or two in a few bites, and the berries themselves tended to sink to the bottom of the mixture as they baked, so once you got to those last few mouthfuls your taste buds were awash in buttery blue heaven.
Grandma had a love of cooking, and she cooked because she loved. Food was one of her ways of expressing affection to family and friends. Whenever she insisted that we grab another helping, we tended to chalk it up to her being a child of the Depression where sustenance was much more precious and harder to come by. But I look back and can see the ways she used food to show people how much she cared.
This was no clearer to me than on days when she made muffins. They tended to be a random afternoon treat, sometimes right after lunch and sometimes later in the day. But when she set to baking, we knew not to wander too far lest we miss them fresh out of the oven. We ate them huddled around her kitchen table while catching a squirrel hopping through the yard out the window and daytime TV buzzing behind us on her little black and white screen.
I still enjoy blueberry muffins, but there's always something missing from them. The ones I order at coffeehouses or get at the store lack the taste and the soul that those days brought, though I suspect that it's because I'm judging them by everything that those days were, far beyond muffins alone.
We've entered a season that amplifies these blueberry memories for me. This is a month that assures us that storebought happiness is enough. Yes, those homemade things are nice, but the real joy lies in box stores and online deals. Entrust your holiday to us, and we'll get you through.
Every once in a while, some genuine taste of times long past comes back, though never through what commerce promises. Through muffins or song or watching my kids' excitement, I feel what I felt before and I am thankful.
This time of year, my hope is not in what I can will myself to feel or what artificial substitutes for my memories I can find to get through to January. My hope lies in those small ways that something real ends up poking through. I don't have to look for it or force it into existence.
It just eventually arrives, whether I'm prepared for it or not.
Image via FreeFoto.