Grandma Knew Farm to Table Cooking

Real Estate Agent with Coldwell Banker Traditions

Grandma Knew Farm to Table Cooking

My daughter in law turned me on to a FB posts from Glen and Friends who is in Canada and posts of food he cooks from cookbooks or recipes dating before 1950.  It is wonderful.  It got me so excited that I started going through my cookbooks collections (which I have about 500) and look at my antique cookbooks. So at least 2 to 3 times a week I make a dish from one of my own cookbooks,  It has been so much fun and a real learning experience to figure out what they are saying ie: measurements. 

Then it brought back the memories of making dishes with my mother and 2 grandmothers.  Especially canning food.  All 3 ladies were in the Great Depression and during shortages of both World Wars. The one thing all 3 taught me is to make a mean biscuit. I still have my mother’s beloved cookbook and her handwritten recipes.  

The Old Becomes The New: Farm to Table

If you shop at the farmer’s market, keep a Tupperware (or repurposed yogurt container) filled with homemade stock in the freezer, or have tried your hand making pickles or jam, you have—knowingly or not—embraced “grandma cooking.” Broadly speaking, grandma cooking refers to an approach to food preparation that is thrifty, intuitive, inherently seasonal, and delicious—the kind of food that nourishes and delights without unnecessary flash. 

If you think about grandmas, they are some of the most experienced cooks in the world, you right. Anyone who has chased their own grandmother around the kitchen, trying to capture the secret behind her beloved apple cake or special family recipe, understands their magic.

Increasingly, food experts say that embracing grandma cooking also has larger importance. For generations, grandmothers (and grandfathers too, though the majority of home cooks have historically been women) literally cooked from scratch. They slaughtered and plucked chickens for soup. They grew the onions, tomatoes, and garlic that would become jars of sauce to last through the winter. They gathered together to roll and fill hundreds of pastries or dumplings for festive meals. In doing so, they gained traditional wisdom and skills that could be passed down to the next generation.

In stark contrast to the grandma cooking philosophy, today’s conventional food system typically positions itself as forward-looking—using technology and lab-made ingredients to feed consumers. As more households came to rely on canned convenience foods and microwaveable meals over the second half of the 20th century, people lost touch with cooking’s familial, communal, cultural, and ecological significances.

Thanks to many cookbook writers, bloggers, Chefs and home cooks, the tide is turning back toward deep, connected, and skillful cooking. But whether you are a cooking novice or a bonafide grandma cook yourself, there is always something to learn. 

The more one cooks, the more patterns begin to emerge and a culinary muscle memory kicks in.  I’ve heard countless stories of grandmothers putting the pot of water on to boil before sending the kids out to the garden to pick corn.  “Just a few minutes, they’d tell the kids, could mean a noticeable loss in sweetness.”

This kitchen wisdom checks out scientifically: The sugar content in starchy vegetables like corn diminishes rapidly after harvest. But the grannies probably did not know that. They cooked by touch, by smell, by taste—pulling from an intuitive knowledge developed and refined over generations of inherited trial and error.

Novice and experienced cooks alike should consider moments at the stove as opportunities to further develop those instincts. Smell seasoning pastes and taste before you add it to a dish. Learn to listen to the sizzle of garlic or the gurgle to gauge when to move on to the next step. Experiment and discover how a dash of salt or sugar can take a dish from blah to blessed.

Plan In Advance For Your Leftovers

Most recipes begin with a list of ingredients, and end when the food hits the table. Cooking is best approached from wherever you find yourself when you are hungry, and should extend long past the end of the page of a receipt.  There should be serving, and also eating, and storing away what’s left; there should be looking at meals’ remainders with interest and imagining all the good things they will become.

Thriftiness, both using every part of an ingredient and repurposing leftovers to avoid waste, is one of the hallmarks of grandma cooking. Begin weeknight meals with a mental or visual scan of what is in your fridge—both ingredients and leftovers—and think about how a container of roasted Brussels sprouts or leftover roasted chicken might be repurposed. Out of ideas? Go for making the French dish, oeufs en restes, or “eggs in leftovers,” which, true to name, takes meat or veggies from a previous meal, warms them in a pan with a little broth, and tops them with a sunnyside up egg. After dinner, end the meal by transferring whatever remains into see-through glass containers.

Advice from home cooks, chefs and grandmother? Look past the sell-by date, which contributes significantly to the 33 million tons of perfectly edible food Americans waste each year, and get back to your senses. “Look at food. Smell it. Taste it—if in doubt, just have a small taste,” she writes. A piece of cheese with a bit of mold on the surface may just need a trim. A carton of eggs may have a month or more beyond the sell-by date before it spoils.  When I was young, if we came across some mold in a pot of jam, we were told to stir it in. ‘It’s penicillin, it’ll do you good!  I don’t know if that was true or not, but we survived to tell the tale.  If moldy jam isn’t your thing, set your own boundaries. But learn to trust yourself, not an arbitrary number on a package.

Make Technology Work For You

Embracing a grandma cooking philosophy does not mean you have to shun technological or culinary advances.  You know the minute the food mill was invented, folks started using it. The trick,  is to figure out a way use those advances to support the same traditional food values. So if your goal is to make homemade yogurt or trade in canned beans for dried ones, go ahead and flip on the Instant Pot. Or if you are committed to making baby food or preserving summer produce, there is no shame in employing a Vitamix to whirl up some roasted sweet potatoes or a heap of pesto for the freezer.

Expand Your Grandma Community

Those of us who have a skilled cook (or two or three) in our family to learn kitchen secrets from should count ourselves as blessed. But if your own grandmother is more likely to burn toast then prepare a from-scratch family meal, hope is not lost. Find a friend who knows how to bake sourdough bread or injera, or roll from-scratch linguine, and make a cooking date. (Always offer to bring wine and provide the ingredients.) Or work your way through one or more classic cookbooks. There is no reason that, with a little patience and practice, Julia Child, Edna Lewis, Marcella Hazan, Madhur Jaffrey, Alice Waters, Claudia Roden, Sandor Katz, Yotam Ottolenghi, Diana Kennedy, or Samin Nosrat—to name just a few—cannot become your personal cooking elders.

Food is so much more than just a source of nourishment and subsistence. Its richness colors culture, history, and even literature. Its coalescing prowess brings people together into communities by creating a sense of familiarity and brotherhood. Some might go so far as to say that food is one of the major forces forging a national identity. It gives individuals a feeling of belonging that is at the core of nationalism. It serves as a hobby, a passion, a profession and sometimes even as a refuge.

It is interesting to see how food preparation has evolved through history, from the Paleolithic man’s roast meat cooked over the open fire in shallow pits to the modern art of molecular gastronomy. Some ancient recipes, however, have miraculously stood the test of time and continue to be in wide use even to this day. 

 Focuses on the oldest enduring recipes that are more intricate than just bread, rice, meat roasted over the fire or dried in the sun, noodles or for that matter soups. Most of us know that bread was one of the first foods prepared by man, some 30,000 years ago. Although there are many recipes of flatbread, leavened bread and others that are more complicated than just toasting a flattened gruel mixture over the fire, they largely belong to the category of staples much like rice, kebab, and noodles. Here, we are more concerned with specific recipes or at least family of recipes that use spices and herbs to enhance flavor and have slowly evolved over time thanks to advancements in cooking technologies.


The liquid that’s leftover after boiling kale, mustard, turnip, or collard greens is called “potlikker.” It’s as rich in vitamins, minerals, and flavor as it is wrought with historical significance.

The byproduct emerged as a centerpiece in the early days of American slavery, when enslaved Africans working in kitchens throughout the South made use of the leftover broth after cooking greens for white slave owners. On its own, it was taken as a tonic or a soup. Otherwise, it was built into a stew with the addition of whatever alliums, greens, and pork was available. For the fortunate few, it could be enjoyed with cornbread.

As with many dishes born of enslavement, potlikker became an icon of Southern cooking, even making its way into the national spotlight with the great “Potlikker and Cornpone Debate of 1931.” The phenomenon pitted a traditionalist newspaper editor from Atlanta against a U.S. senator from Louisiana in a row over whether it was more appropriate to crumble cornbread into potlikker or to dunk it. In the midst of the Great Depression, the debate gripped the country for weeks. The dispute today remains unsettled.

Also most country folks, farmers, or during some period of financial hardship has eaten Potlikker. 

If you’ve got some ham hocks, ham (drippings from you baked ham) or any smoked/salted pork kicking around, this recipe serves nicely. For vegetarians, mushrooms stand in well for the umami of hearty cuts of ham in this alternative recipe. If cornbread is a possibility, crumble or dunk as you see fit.

This recipe all 3 ladies of my family made.  We used cabbage, collards, turnip greens or kale for this.  I still do it today when I cook ham, ham hocks to season greens or dry beans with the broth, or just eat the broth cooked with greens with cornbread or soda crackers (saltines). Potlikker, YUM!


Comments (14)

Bob "RealMan" Timm
Ward County Notary Services - Minot, ND
Owner of Ward Co Notary Services retired RE Broker

I love your post Elaine VonCannon as my wife also has a lot of cookbooks... no where near 500 however. She too is also cooking out of them often and the recipes are GREAT from my point of view.

Jan 11, 2022 11:41 AM
Joan Cox
House to Home, Inc. - Denver Real Estate - 720-231-6373 - Denver, CO
Denver Real Estate - Selling One Home at a Time

Elaine, now you have me really missing my huge garden at my previous home.   It was nice to go out, pick the veggies, and make dinner.

Jan 11, 2022 02:55 PM
Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Home Stager/Redesign

Hi Elaine- I was organizing some of my cookbooks and recipes and decided that I was going to make at least one recipe from them every week. So many were from 30+ years ago. I agree with everything in your post. I learned to cook from my grandmother since my mother worked.  We had a bone-in ham recently and from that I made some ham salad and a great pot of soup!!!

Jan 11, 2022 06:23 PM
Nina Hollander, Broker
Coldwell Banker Realty - Charlotte, NC
Your Greater Charlotte Realtor

Well, not my grandma, nor my mother, nor me! My grandma was the world's worst cook. We lived and grew up in the concrete jungle of New York City... no gardens. And my mother worked at three jobs to ensure her kids didn't go to public schools... no time to learn to cook. If I think of food gardening now... it's like a punishment! :))) I am a self-taught cook and collect cookbooks... but I still like to keep dishes simple.

Jan 12, 2022 05:04 AM
Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Pasadena And Southern California 818.516.4393

Hello Elaine - and it's not just cooking but January often means "a back to basics" look at a lot of things.  Thanks for the recipe for enjoying life.  

Jan 12, 2022 05:25 AM
Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Home Stager/Redesign

Jan 15, 2022 05:46 PM
Kristin Johnston - REALTOR®
RE/MAX Platinum - Waukesha, WI
Giving Back With Each Home Sold!

Congrats on the feature by Kathy this week.  Great job!

Jan 16, 2022 06:28 AM
Dorie Dillard Austin TX
Coldwell Banker Realty ~ 512.750.6899 - Austin, TX
NW Austin ~ Canyon Creek and Spicewood/Balcones

Good morning Elaine VonCannon 

I'm so glad that Kathy Streib featured your post in her "Ah-ha" moments for the week as somehow I missed it! My mother was a Home Economics teacher and practiced what she preached from all her cooking, canning and gardening skills. She was the best cook and to this day I make many of her recipes.

Jan 16, 2022 06:40 AM
Jan Green - Scottsdale, AZ
Value Added Service, 602-620-2699 - Scottsdale, AZ
HomeSmart Elite Group, REALTOR®, EcoBroker, GREEN

Love your post!  Brings back many memories of helping in the kitchen. Unfortunately, I didn't get to grow up with grandparents, but did learn canning, food storage and cooking for large families.  One story from my mother-in-law was when she and her husband, would bring home produce from their small town grocery store that they owned.  Any type of produce that had blemishes or was old and needed to be removed ended up in the family meatloaf!  

Jan 16, 2022 08:16 AM
Hannah Williams
HomeStarr Realty - Philadelphia, PA
Expertise NE Philadelphia & Bucks 215-820-3376

Great post Elaine VonCannon being a latch key kid i learned to cook at an early age I still love to cook with fresh veggies and fruit and nuts give me some flour too So glad Kathy Streib  featured this as I missed it 

Jan 16, 2022 08:46 AM
Susan Emo
Sotheby's International Realty Canada - Brokerage - Kingston, ON
Kingston and the 1000 Islands Area

I thoroughly enjoyed this post and thank Kathy Streib for sharing it!  I learned to cook in 4H from the age of 8 to 12 and still have many of those workbooks that the farmer ladies put together.  We've always cooked from scratch as I was the youngest of 7 children and the only girl.  Each of my brothers learned to cook and we each took a night to prepare dinner.  They, being men, never followed recipes or directions of course, lol 

Jan 16, 2022 09:31 AM
Roy Kelley
Retired - Gaithersburg, MD

Thank you very much for sharing your memories and advice.

You make me recall plucking chickens for my mother while I was sitting on the back steps. She and her mother were wonderful cooks.

Jan 16, 2022 11:24 AM
Wanda Kubat-Nerdin - Wanda Can!
Red Rock Real Estate (435) 632-9374 - St. George, UT
St. George Utah Area Residential Sales Agent

We have a back yard garden every year and grow at least 40 varieties of fruits and vegetables every year. It saves us money during growing season and nothing is better than fresh! Congrats on being featured in Kathy's weekly line-up Elaine!

Jan 16, 2022 06:31 PM
Tom Bailey
Margaret Rudd & Associates Inc. - Oak Island, NC

I very much remember my 2 grandmother’s and my mother’s cooking! They all violated the healthy cooking ideas of today. Bacon grease lard etc. Poor things they all lived into their nineties 

Jan 22, 2022 10:46 AM