My grandmother’s kitchen: making lace
by Phia Graham Gannett
Alvina Cathrina “Tena” Charlotta Wahlert Graham was my paternal grandmother. She was born on the boat coming over from Schleswig, Holstein Germany/Alsace Lorraine area in 1874. Her birth certificate is in the Old Dutch/German. Her parents settled first in Cornwall TWP/ Henry County, IL to farm. They later moved into Atkinson IL, and had eight children who lived.
This area’s mainstay, like Walsenburg and Huerfano County, was coal mining. Strip mining continued into the mid-1960’s.
“Tena,” as she was called, met her future husband in grade school. In her autograph book for eighth grade, he wrote, “Roses are red, violets are blue, someday I will marry you.” They were married in 1898 and celebrated 63 years together.
Grandpa Graham partnered with his father and brothers in the livery business in Atkinson starting in the 1890s. They stayed in business for 25 years, only closing the operation down once the automobile came into its own. Grandpa looked a LOT like Buster Keaton – pork pie hat and all! In the 1920s, he got scarlet fever and lost all his body hair. He was foreman (overseeing mule teams that were used for excavation of the Illinois- Mississippi Canal (part of the Hennipen Canal – a canal designed to connect Lake Michigan, the Chicago River, and the Mississippi River for barge traffic. It was obsolete upon completion), he helped lay the second Rock Island Line track, and build the AT&T lines from Sheffield, IL to Council Bluffs, IA. He was the first mail carrier from Atkinson and Galva, IL. He worked the rest of his life in ranching and farming until his death at age 86.
Grandma Graham stayed at home and raised the children. She was known for her handwork making lace by pulling threads from the linen cloth, tatting, making rugs from wool strips cut from garments. Tena was also skilled at baking. She was winning ribbons for rugs in 1931 from the Henry County Fair. She was still winning ribbons into 1963 for her rugs and pies and such (less than five years before her death at 96).
I entered this family by adoption in the spring of 1950, when she was already in her late 70’s and hard of hearing. When I was a pre-teen, she would let me roll the fabric balls, hook some rows, and taught me to crochet. I used to clean her kitchen for her scrubbing the yellowing linoleum floors with the lye soap she was always “brewing” on her stove from the fat drippings my father collected and brought to her. I often did her laundry using her wringer washing machine.
As with all families, there were those signature recipes (the ones that defined and were always in demand). Her Lacey Oatmeal Cookies have been the favourite of five generations of this (at least) 115-year-old recipe.
Please note this recipe was created in the Midwest. I haven’t figured out how to adjust it for baking out here in the High Country!
When it’s done right, it not only tastes like fine granola, but also can be a crumbled on top of vanilla ice crème (preferably hand cranked).
Lacy Oatmeal Cookies
• 1 cup flour
• 1/2 tsp baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3 cups rolled oats
• 1 cup butter (real butter was used in those days )
• 1/2 cup white cane sugar
• 1/2 cup dark brown sugar (flattened to fill tightly)
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
• chopped nuts (optional) (usually a fine chopped walnut)
Crème butter and add sugars and crème again. Add flavours. In another bowl, sift dry ingredients. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet using the “folding or low speed” on your Mixmaster.
Drop by spoon unto greased cookie sheets and flatten with your fingers. Bake 375 degrees for ten minutes– until golden brown.
For chewy cookies – leave the cookie dough thicker, for finely thin and crisp cookies; flatten dough on the sheets more (you will have to adjust the cooking time either way).
Yield: Determined by the thickness or thinness desired.