A couple weeks ago, our family gathered around my maternal grandmother’s table, enjoying a meal with her along with all of the cousins and their children and spouses present.
It was sometimes a bit loud and boisterous, and there was plenty of laughter as we all ate way too much while telling stories and catching up. It was a rare moment when everyone was able to come.
This past weekend, we were all there again, minus one very noticeable presence: Grandma.
After losing my grandpa in March, she went to join him last week. She was ready; we were not.
Grandma’s table expanded several times over the years as grandchildren, significant others and great grandchildren continued to join our family, and although it seemed like there were always more places set every time we gathered, the amount of leftovers seemed to stay constant. She taught us all to cook for an army, and as she often said, if you left hungry, that was your own fault.
When we were younger, Grandma made us all elaborately decorated birthday cakes every year. I almost always requested a spice cake, and when she asked what dishes we’d like to see for our family dinner together to celebrate, I requested her scalloped broccoli.
The broccoli casserole was a favorite amongst all the grandkids, which I suspect had less to do with the broccoli and more to do with the fact that it had plenty of cheese in it.
I decided that making that dish was the perfect way for me to honor her memory and all of those elaborate meals over the years, so I opened the handwritten cookbook she gave me for my 16th birthday, following the directions written in her beautiful cursive.
I’m not sure if anyone has ever shed nostalgic tears over broccoli before, but I definitely did.
So this week, my recipe comes from the kitchen of Lola Franklin—one of the best cooks I’ve ever known.
- 32 ounces frozen broccoli
- 1 pound American cheese cut into chunks
- 2 cups minute rice
- 1 cup milk
- 2, 10.5- ounce cans cream of mushroom soup
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a large pot, add the frozen broccoli along with three cups of water. Put it over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli is cooked through.
- While the broccoli is cooking, add the cheese (Grandma used to either get the loaves of sliced American cheese to use or would request it from the deli counter), rice, milk and soup to a large, microwave-safe casserole dish with a lid.
- Drain the broccoli and stir it into the other ingredients.
- Microwave on high, with the lid on, until the cheese is melted and the rice is cooked through (somewhere between five and 10 minutes, depending on the strength of your microwave).
- Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.
This is a great dish for leftovers, which I can attest to after being sent home with many Tupperware containers of it over the years.
After mixing up my batch of broccoli, I have to admit it didn’t taste as great at Grandma’s. I doubt I’ll ever be fully satisfied with my version of it, though, since I won’t be enjoying it with one of the most influential women in my life.
Over the years, she taught me much more than just cooking skills around her dinner table. As she loaded up our plates, she also demonstrated how to be resilient, to be caring, to love unconditionally, and to always put others first.
As we spent our last family meal together, Grandma watched my mom, her daughter, bustling around the table, her own plate still empty as she made sure that everyone else was getting their fill and each dish was making its way around.
She looked across at me and said, “I’d be shocked if she ever actually sat down and ate.”
“I wonder where she got that from,” I responded.
“Hey, now,” she said, a gleam in her eye and a wry smile on her face.
I’ll miss sharing those meals with her as we all try to move forward, but she’ll most certainly always be with us at our family dinner tables and other gatherings we host with friends through the years.
If nothing else, Grandma taught me that life can always use an extra large scoop—of love and, of course, of ice cream.
This piece first appeared in print on July 18, 2019.
Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas and sponsored by Main Street Co. & Kitchen Corner in Newton, Kan. Visit their website at shopmainstco.com.