When I was a little girl, growing up in Detroit, my grandparents lived only a few miles away in a middle-class neighborhood typical of the city. I spent a lot of time at their house, and one of my best memories is how I always marveled at the idea that my Grandma Minnie could make cookies with the bacon drippings she always collected in a small crock on her kitchen counter.
Then last fall, as I was going through boxes that have not been gone through for many years, I came across an envelope my Dad had given me that contained recipes hand-written by his sister Helen. I never knew my Aunt Helen because she died at the age of twelve. But she has always been a big part of my life. I was named for her, and my grandparents talked often to me about her and how… “You are so much like her”, as Grandma used to say.
One of the recipes in the envelope was for Oatmeal Cookies and one of the ingredients was lard. This instantly reminded me of those cookies Grandma used to make, so I thought I would give them a try. Jim loved the idea because he got to eat bacon every day until I had enough saved bacon drippings to make the cookies. He was not as excited about eating them!
Recipe for Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup sugar 1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup lard 1 cup raisins
1/2 cup butter 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
2 eggs, well beaten 2 cups flour
2 cups rolled oats, dry 1 tsp. baking powder sifted into flour
1/2 cup sour milk 1/2 tsp. baking soda
Drop very small spoonfuls on tins, greased first time only, and bake at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.
I made these cookies two ways. I made them with bacon drippings first, then made some using Crisco shortening for the lard. If you are a dough snitcher like I am, don’t make the version with the bacon drippings. The flavor is very off-putting! The cookies, however, taste pretty good. Jim actually prefers these if he is having a cup of coffee with them.
The cookies made with the Crisco shortening were very good, as was the dough. The thing I like best about these cookies, either version, is that they are not so sweet. I will make them again, with the Crisco, and hope you will try them, too.
Shortly after Helen died, my grandfather lost his farm in Maeystown, IL and declared bankruptcy. He, my grandmother and their three surviving sons moved to Detroit, where he found temporary employment as a night watchman for the Detroit Edison Co. He retained that position and status (temporary) until his retirement. The family purchased a home in Detroit between 7 Mile Road and 8 Mile Road, a block west of Livernois Ave. It was there that I spent so many happy days as I was growing up.
Detroit, in the 1950’s and early 60’s, was a wonderful place to grow up. We walked to school from our home each day, usually taking our time, exploring the neighborhood, sometimes arriving back home later than our mother thought we ought to. There was a small store on the way that we called our “candy store”. Nothing meant more to me and my three siblings than for each of us to have a dime, or maybe even a quarter, to stop and buy candy on our way home from school. I loved buying the little colored dots on rolls of paper, and baseball cards were a big item for all four of us.
We always felt safe. My mom thought nothing of allowing me to walk to the public library on Grand River, which was over a mile from our house. I would stop at my other grandmother’s apartment on my way, and she always had cookies and lemonade for me as I was “passing by”. It also gave her an opportunity to call my mother to tell her I was truly on my way home, as she watched me head in that direction, with my nose in a book instead of on the sidewalk of Greenfield Ave.
When I was a teenager, our parents would let the four of us go alone on a city bus down to Tiger Stadium to see a game. I am sure they worried a little, but not like we worry today. Those days were simple, carefree, and so cherished.
It is funny, although I take hundreds of pictures as we travel, I have no pictures of the city in which I grew up other than those taken at home or at the home of a relative. I have no pictures of Belle Isle, situated in the Detroit River, where we went for wonderful Sunday drives and begged to stay long enough to watch the fountain change colors after the sun went down. Nor do I have any pictures of Bob-Lo Island, a Canadian amusement park we reached on what we always called the “Bob-Lo Boat” I wish I did, and it makes me more mindful of pictures to be taken in the place I now live.
Eventually my Grandma Minnie moved into our house. She was a constant presence in our lives. She helped in so many ways, always being there if our parents could not. And she continued to cook for us occasionally. She continued helping Mom and Dad can every food imaginable each summer, just as she and my Grandfather had done for years. My brother used to go to the cellar and get a quart of peaches, sit down in front of the TV and devour the whole thing in one sitting.
Detroit was truly a great place to grow up, but things went terribly wrong somewhere along the way. The city thrived on its status as a blue collar city with opportunity for all its citizens. The auto industry made that possible, and, as a result, my husband and I have never bought anything other than an American-made car. Yes, we have had a few lemons, but, all in all, we have been happy with our choices. We now drive a Ford Fusion Hybrid and absolutely love it!
Being the Motor Capital of the world, I suppose the city leaders thought it would be good to lead the way in automobile transportation. To serve that end, freeways were built leading out of the city. These freeways look, on a map, like spokes on a wheel. To my way of thinking, that was the beginning of the trouble. Workers could drive to their jobs each morning in the city and get on a freeway at the end of the day and quickly arrive back home. It was the beginning of the flight from the city to the suburbs, from which the city has never recovered.
I love the city of Detroit and believe it has an opportunity to show the rest of America how to rebuild decaying cities across the nation. I hope so. We do not go to Detroit anymore, but our sons still follow Detroit sports and have often traveled there to see games.