Elinor Jean Darling June 17, 1921 - May 14, 2013
Granny and Grandpa in the late 1950's
Granny at a birthday party sometime in the 1970's.
Granny and Grandpa at a dinner party in the 1990's
Granny at my cousin's wedding wearing my dress from my high school prom 1990.
And Granny frequently borrowed the black daisy dress I'm wearing in this picture too.
Granny at the Ballard School Luau Fundraiser in 2002
When my Grandfather, Merrill Darling, passed away I wrote the story of of how he and Granny met. She was working as a young stenographer at Nicholsen's Dress Shop in Seattle and she went over to Manning's cafeteria for her lunch break when a handsome young busboy asked her if he could clear her tray. If you click on the link you will see the story of how this young boy started as a cook in the Navy during WWII and worked his way up in the restaurant world.
Now that my grandmother, Jean Darling, has passed away I have been struggling for weeks over how to write about her. How do I honor and pay tribute to this woman who was unequivocally the most influential cooking and food person in my life. If I inherited her passion for food and cooking how do I also acknowledge that I'm worried I may have also inherited her critical side. How do I take all that was amazing about her while learning to temper my words.
Even last week when my friend was preparing Lemonade for a party for children I said "You can't use powdered lemonade! It's horrible. You can only make it fresh-squeezed." Did I restrain myself when I said that or did I just let my incredibly strong food opinions fly strongly out of my mouth the way my grandmother did? Thankfully, this was one of my best friends and she had no problem telling me I was out of my mind and this not the time or place to be making fresh-squeezed lemonade.
My grandmother drank fresh-squeezed orange juice that she squeezed every single morning for herself until she died. When I was in High School she would bring me a case of oranges from her friends citrus ranch. One case for her and one case for me. I only had fresh squeezed orange juice myself from the best oranges until I went away to college. I remember trying to get used to the frozen stuff because that is all my budget would allow. (I really should mention as a side-note here that my dad also squeezes fresh orange juice for himself every morning too!) Well after there was a fire at the citrus ranch, it was sold and we had to find another source for oranges. And not just any oranges would do. They had to be from the Farmer's Market or a specialty store. When Granny stopped driving it was up to us to be sure she had the right oranges. One week my cousins fiancee stepped in to purchase the oranges a week that the rest of us were away and Granny complained for weeks (perhaps months) how shocked she was that he only bought her two oranges. "What was he thinking!"
My grandmother made a bowl of Special K look like breakfast at the Four Seasons. NEVER EVER would a milk cartoon or box of cereal EVER be allowed on her table. She always had the cereal bowl with underliner plate on a linen placemat. Milk was put in a small pitcher, bananas were sliced on top of the cereal and perfectly arranged. Her very simple breakfast was beautiful. It really explains all that food was to her: it was art. And she was a gifted artist.
I said for years that my goal in life was to have Granny's life. I realize I may never have seen the harder parts of her earlier life and that I only saw the end. But I saw that she had figured out exactly what made her content and gave her joy and that is how she lived her daily life. She exercised every single day but Sunday. She either walked a three mile loop and lifted weights, swam in the ocean or her pool or played golf. She was still doing her leg lifts in her bed the day before she died.
She and my grandfather always loved going to dinner and a movie at The Riviera. She read every single night. She read two newspapers every morning and read books in the evening. She had a beautiful garden with a special cutting garden just so she would always have fresh flowers on her table and in her house at all times. They ate by candlelight EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. Every evening dinner was a beautiful ceremony. They ate at their formal dinning room table and dinner was beautiful. As children we were given the special privilege of using the candle snuffer to put out the candles at the end of dinner. We felt very important when we were given this grown-up job.
There are not many teenagers that can exchange and share clothing with their grandmother but Granny borrowed my clothes fairly regularly. We had the same coloring and looked good in the same styles. We showed up for my brother's 8th grade graduation in the exact same outfit! She wore my dress from the High School Prom to my cousins's wedding. Granted it was a classic dress and not a traditional prom dress but still it has to be rare that grandmothers and granddaughters exchange clothing. My grandmother still looked great in a bathing suit well into her 70's. During the last year of her life when she was basically housebound and required to wear robes most of the time, I remember walking into her house and there she was at the kitchen counter with a beautiful French scarf wrapped around her neck over her robe. Her hair was styled and her makeup was on. She even taught her caregivers exactly how she applied her makeup and they styled her hair and put on her makeup until the very end of her life.
Granny stayed current on recipes in the same way she stayed current on fashion. She often cooked whatever was on most recent cover of Gourmet. (oops, and here comes the critical side slipping out again. Granny and I both had a lot to say when Gourmet changed editors and dumbed down their recipes. We felt it was the beginning of the end and it turned out it was.) Granny and I could talk for hours and hours about food. I have inherited all of her cookbooks and recipes along with as well as her China Cabinet, China and Dining Room Table. Her words will always play in my mind "don't cook the pork chops all the way in the pan, just sear them and then put some white wine, mustard and currant jam in and let them simmer in the sauce. They will be moist then." Or "just put a sprinkle of cinnamon on the oatmeal" or "a dash of nutmeg on anything with spinach or a cream sauce" (aka for her tortellini baked in heavy cream.) Or "just add a little hot sauce to the clam chowder or the mac and cheese. Just a hint to give it a little spice."
I have shared a number of her recipes with all of you over the years and I will continue to work on getting more of her best recipes up on the blog. For many of you her signature dishes have now become your own family heirlooms. HerProsciutto and Cheese Torta is now made by many of my friends at Thanksgiving and Christmas and other family holidays.
Here are a few of her recipes that I've already posted on the blog:
Cheese Pennies (aka Cheese Straws, Granny's Cheese Crispies)
Pork Tenderloin with Plum Sauce
Butternut Squash Soup
Granny's Popcorn Balls
Jean Darling's Smoked Salmon with Pasta and Cream
During the week Granny passed away my friend, Hollye, posted the Salmon with Tomato and Ginger recipe without even knowing it was my Grandmother's recipe. I'd been making it for over 20 years and I'd neglected to mention to source to Hollye as we rushed through the recipes we were working on. We'd worked on the recipes months before and Hollye just publishes them in her own order. As a complete surprise, three days after my Grandmother's death, her recipe showed up on Hollye's blog. The timing was Divine. It clearly let me know that Granny's legacy is alive and well. Her gift will forever be shared with all of those who love beautiful and delicious food.