I hope this note finds you well.
In our family, holiday celebrations were never big deals; work came first, always. The exceptions were the midday meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The most memorable of these meals took place at Grandma Taggart’s. Her maiden name was Amman, and she lived up to her German heritage. Grandpa had died several years before, but two of their nine children still lived at home; she continued to cook as she had for her large family.
When I was a child, Grandma cooked on a wood stove despite having electricity and butane gas available. Her comment was: “that old stove is dependable and I know what to expect.” Her house was always full of wonderful smells. Two days a week she baked bread. Each morning, after eating breakfast at home, I would run out the backdoor of our house, cross over the fence stile, race across the pig-pen, mount the second stile and present myself in Grandma’s kitchen.
She would prepare cinnamon and sugar toast on fresh bread for me. Part of the kitchen was a pantry filled with shelves of canned purple hull peas, sweet corn, green beans, squash, okra and tomatoes from the summer garden. Just off the kitchen was a small dining room dominated by a large round wooden table surrounded by small wooden benches.
Her holiday table was always full to overflowing. Moist fried chicken, never greasy, was a staple; roast pork and some type of wild game were usually present. She had the sweetest iced tea I have ever tasted. There were fresh rolls as light as feathers, with home-churned butter and honey.
One of her specialties was her scalloped potatoes. She layered the sliced potatoes with cheese, whole cream and thickly sliced onions, then baked them in her old cast iron stove. There were never any of those potatoes left at the end of the meal. (I remember a lady – not part of the family – asking her for the secret behind the potatoes. Grandma said a few words about a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but in the end told her nothing.) To finish the meal there was always some elaborate concoction for dessert. Pecan pie, peach and apple cobblers were regulars, but the piece de resistance was her German Chocolate cake.
I don’t know if there ever was a recipe for her German Chocolate Cake but I can tell you that it is one of the most important sense memories of my life and I can see and taste it as if I were still sitting at that old round table.
There were at least three layers of delicate chocolate cake with each layer separated by an inch of rich coconut and roasted pecan icing. Most recipes call for almonds, but just outside the window of the dining room was a giant soft-shelled pecan tree. Covering the cake was another thick layer of that delicious icing with whole pecans dotted on the surface.
The last of these wonderful meals occurred sixty years ago but I can remember them like they had taken place yesterday.
Have a good journey,
Dr. Sam Taggart is a retired doctor/ writer/ marathon runner in practice in Benton for the last 35 years. He recently published The Public’s Health: A narrative history of health and disease in Arkansas, published by the Arkansas Times. His two other books, With a Heavy Heart and We All Hear Voices are available at your local booksellers or online at Amazon.com.