My Vineyard- 19
by Erin Haggerty
As kids, my brother and I spent a lot of time at our grandparents’ house, just a street over from our Boston home. Even when we were old enough to walk up the street by ourselves, my grandfather was always at the bus stop to greet us. When we got to the house, my grandmother was unfailingly at work in the kitchen. She was a fantastic, dedicated cook, and my grandfather, her seamlessly compatible sous chef.
On holidays, more than 50 aunts, uncles, and cousins gathered at their house to feast, but because of our parents work schedules, and the proximity of our house to theirs my brother and I got to enjoy my grandmother’s cooking five nights a week.
Nana started planning dinner right after breakfast, usually sending my brother and me to the grocery store with my grandfather for supplies. Neither of my grandparents drove, so we walked, carefully calculating what we could carry home. She had a knack for making our favorites (macaroni and cheese for me, shepherd’s pie for my brother) just when we needed them. Like the time I got sick on the plane from a trip to Mexico (I vaguely remember thinking that I didn’t actually have to brush my teeth with bottled water as long as my mom wasn’t watching). A few days later, after being unable to stomach a thing since Mexico, I remember watching, with pangs of hunger, as she pulled the white casserole dish with the blue flowers out of the oven. She made mac and cheese the long way, with a roux, hand-shredded white cheddar and topped with buttery breadcrumbs. It thoroughly restored my appetite.
At the age of 65, after raising nine kids, my grandmother enrolled in a pastry school in Kenmore Square. Perhaps her greatest culinary achievement was the cream puff, made with real French-style cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. The cream puffs were a staple at holidays, but sometimes she made them on a school night, just because.
My grandmother died in 2005. Four years later, I was living on the Vineyard full-time, waitressing during the summer when I started dating a chef.
At first, my mom, aunts and I light-heartedly imagined how my grandmother would have loved him. Then as time went on and things got more serious, our imaginations got more detailed. “She would have called him all the time,” we laughed.
We imagined that she would have loved eating at the restaurant where he works. He would have sent her a midcourse, something special that isn’t on the menu, and she would have walked right up to the kitchen and told him that it was “second to none,” her utmost compliment.
A few years ago my mom gave my guy a pasta maker for Christmas and he put it to use right away. He turned my parents’ kitchen into an assembly line, churning out dozens of butternut squash ravioli then carefully packing them into freezer bags for my parents to enjoy later.
Holidays have changed quite a bit since my grandparents died and their house was sold. A few years ago we had lasagna, chicken Parmesan, and salad from a nearby restaurant for Christmas dinner. By all accounts it was an agreeable dinner (and so easy—there was no clean up!). But afterward, I begged my mom and aunts to never do that again. The next year, around Thanksgiving, my mom wondered aloud if my guy might like to cook Christmas dinner.
He outlined the menu a week before, keeping my grandmother’s Christmas staples and adding a few dishes of his own like lobster bisque and Vineyard bay scallops.
He put butter, cream, and salt in the mashed potatoes as my grandmother would have, dispelling the notion that people should just “add their own.” He cooked the roast to medium- rare and saved the end pieces for people who preferred their meat well done. He made the gravy himself, whisking cornstarch with the juices from the roast. There was only one minor mishap, involving an overly helpful aunt, a double boiler, and a Béarnaise sauce turned scrambled eggs.
Next June, I’m going to marry that chef on what would have been my grandparents’ 72nd wedding anniversary. I’m hoping for a croquembouche (tower of cream puffs) in place of a wedding cake.
He’ll never have a quick chat on the phone with my grandmother, and she’ll never eat at his restaurant, but I love the significance of spending my adult years with someone who loves to feed the ones he loves.