My food hero is my grandmother Marguerite Davis, known to me, my brothers, my cousins and many others simply as Nanny. My Nanny was born in 1910 and passed away peacefully at the age of 102. She was a great lover of good food.
Nanny studied home economics at the University of Toronto at a time when very few women were attending university. After graduating, she took on a job managing the lunch counter at the Kresge’s department store in Winnipeg, which is where she met my grandfather. She recounted how during the Great Depression she would use the budgeting skills she had learned in her studies to ensure that customers would receive good value for the very limited money they had to spend. This frugality carried through for the rest of her life and Nanny never wasted a scrap in the kitchen.
I have a vivid memory of being in Nanny’s kitchen at her summer cottage as a little girl and smelling chicken and potatoes roasting in the oven, and broccoli with homemade cheese sauce on the stove. It felt like the coziest place in the whole world.
Not one to shy away from a compliment, Nanny was famous for loudly proclaiming in the middle of a meal that she had prepared, “Mmmmmm…isn’t this good!?” And it always was so, so good.
But baking was Nanny’s real forte. She made the best oatmeal cookies you can imagine – flakey and buttery, each one pressed down lovingly with a fork. Sugar cookies, butter tarts and blueberry pies were a few of her other specialties. She always had a tin of sweets to offer when you came to visit.
My Nanny, as well as my Grandma Healy on my mom’s side, passed along the art of pie-making to me. Nanny was firm that you can’t be afraid of the dough and need to be willing to get your hands dirty.
Even in the later years of her life when Nanny no longer cooked for herself and was eating shared meals in her seniors’ residence, she joined the food committee to ensure that she had a say in the quality of food that was being prepared.
This holiday season I am making a donation in honour of my food hero Nanny Davis.
Meredith Davis is a research consultant based in Guelph.
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