Rediscovering My Grandmother's Blintz Recipe and Old Memories of My Family
My mom doesn’t want me to tell you this, but decluttering is not a task at which she particularly excels. She doesn’t have anything to be embarrassed about; after all, Marie Kondo wouldn’t be nearly as popular as she is if the majority of us were neat and tidy! My mom is by no means a hoarder, and her house is very clean. She just has a lot of stuff, the result of 30-plus years spent living in the same place.
But she’d like to downsize to a smaller place in the next couple of years, which means that first, she has to downsize some of said stuff. Understandably, it feels like an overwhelming task for her, going through three decades’ worth of items, papers, and memories.
That’s where I come in.
We no longer live together, but I’m only about 35 minutes away, so I regularly visit her at my childhood home. Recently, as she planned a weekend trip out of town, I offered to house-sit for her and take care of her two dogs to save her the cost of boarding them – and I told her I’d go through some of her things while I was there.
I spent the weekend putting things away, throwing things away, and giving things away, and while I worked, I occasionally stopped to take in the memories of the items I found. Among them was a letter from the aunt I haven’t seen since I was 13, all my elementary school yearbooks, and a VHS tape titled “The Way We Were” that features my dad’s family.
I also found a printout of an email from my late grandmother: It was a recipe for her favorite blintz casserole.
I’d almost missed it. I’d been in the process of tossing magazines, old catalogues, and other paper goods my mom no longer needed, and the email, dated 2007, didn’t seem important at first. Perhaps, at its core, it wasn’t. I don’t cook much, after all, and if I did, I’m sure I could find a recipe elsewhere online for a blintz casserole. In fact, on ReformJudaism.org alone, we’ve got two of them: Amy Kritzer’s recipe for Cheese Blintz Casserole and Tina Wasserman’s version of Grandma Lucille’s Blintz Souffle, adapted from her own mother’s handwritten recipe.
Then I read through the recipe my grandma had shared in her 2007 email to my mother and my two aunts. It was, in Grandma’s typical fashion, short and to-the-point. The title read “Blintz casserole,” and the body of the email said simply, “This is really good. Everybody at the brunch really liked it.” She then launched into the recipe itself, spelling the word “blender” wrong (really, Grandma, “blendor”?!)
Throughout the recipe, she injected a few recommendations, including one about not blending the filling too much: “I like my cottage cheese still lumpy,” she offers. Toward the end of the instructions, too, she shares one last note: “Serve with sour cream and/or fruit topping. (I like it plain!)” Of course my grandmother, ever the minimalist – and never one to pile on the calories – preferred her cheese blintzes au naturel.
The recipe, and the email that accompanies it, are both succinct and straightforward, as was my grandmother herself, but interspersed with little pieces of a more lighthearted personality. She was a no-nonsense lady – not strict, necessarily, but perhaps a little stern – who was also somewhat incongruously joyful, finding happiness in everyday life; her obituary described her as “an accomplished artist, an avid traveler, a volunteer extraordinaire and, above all else, a loving wife, mother and grandmother.”
Reading her email reminded me of times spent at my grandparents' house, especially during the Thanksgiving holiday. Half of our family is Jewish and the other half is secularly Christian, so we always exchanged holiday gifts the day after Thanksgiving (not yet dubbed Black Friday, back then); as a child, it was my favorite 48 hours of the year. Their home in Lima, OH, was small but spacious, and oh-so-cozy, filled with art and tchotchkes in rich, neutral tones. I dont think I ever had blintz casserole there, but I can vividly recall warm, fragrant chili, fresh lemon ice cream, and big, green salads; in the mornings, she put out everything bagels and a spread of toppings. Even now, if I think hard enough, I can remember how safe and secure I felt there, how much I enjoyed being surround by the love of my family.
I remember my grandmother well, but it’s been nearly seven years since her death, and perhaps I’d forgotten a little bit more of her than I’d realized. Finding my grandma’s email, and the recipe contained within it, was a lovely little reminder from the universe – of who she was and how she communicated, yes, but also of how much she loved us and how much she was loved.
In the end, I did a fairly thorough job of decluttering my mom’s home, and I did throw away the email printout – but not before scanning it and re-emailing it to both my mother and me.
Maybe it’s time I try to learn to cook, after all. Grandma would be proud.