I was born into a family of superwomen and grew up feeling like a watered down version. My Grandmother was from Norway and she started my legacy into nutrition and compulsive striving for natural living and healing.
Grandma was born in Norway, November 3, 1885 to a family of fifteen (15) brothers and sisters. She came to America approximately 1905 and through her sister Ingrid who lived in Yonkers she met Grandpa, Olaf Andreas Johannesen, later shortened to Johnsen. Grandpa was twenty (20) years older and considered a good catch for her as he was a rigger on ships and made decent money in 1909 when they were married. They had eight (8) children, my mother, Clara the third girl and sixth in line.
Grandma always loved to cook and it had to be fresh and nutritious. She would lecture us on the evils of white bread and sugar. On their farm on East 66th Street in Flatbush, supposedly the last farm in Brooklyn, she harvested her own fruits and vegetables, collected eggs from 125 chickens and milked the cow. She could fillet a fish in minutes and made many traditional recipes, especially at the holidays. Their table was always filled with family, friends and strangers. Her stove was always fired with something bubbling on top. Waffles and Norwegian pancakes (a form of crepe) dripping with homemade peach jam and butter appeared at all hours of the day as a meal, snack or dessert. Vegetables of all kinds filled the dinner table and fruit was always a staple as well.
Her tonics filled all of us with dread. My cousins and I had to stand in line for doses of cod liver oil and weekly purges of prunes. She would also spoon out meat juices from roasts but that we fought over. Apple cider vinegar cured a myriad of ills from varicose veins to digestive problems. We would shiver when we saw her drink a glass of it or rub it on her legs. Dandelions were plentiful and nutritious with the roots added to coffee, the leaves cooked or added to a salad and the blossoms made into wine. Raw onions tied to feet were a cure for high fevers. She nursed many children in and out of her household. One neighbor’s child was on death’s door and bits of mashed ripe banana nourished her back to health. These were just a few treatments from her medical bag.
She made all their clothes, knitted socks and slept little but every day she would nap for fifteen minutes and then be up and working again. Grandpa eventually retired to the porch rocker and did some chores but Gram was the heart and backbone of the family. All of the children had chores. Canning and gathering eggs were my mother’s least favorite. Most of her summers were spent washing mason jars and canning hundreds of jars of tomatoes, pickles, vegetables, peaches and whatever else was ripening.
During the lean years of the Depression, Gram cooked at a local delicatessen and loved it. She also cooked at the local halls for special events, while dreaming of running her own restaurant. That was not to happen but it didn’t stop her from cooking and entertaining her whole life. At that time vendors would come selling items door to door from their carts or wagons. They never left without sitting at her table and with something under their arm to take with them. You never knew who you would find at her table.