Thursday, October 20, 2011

Honoring the Past: My Paternal Grandparents

My paternal grandparents both died before I turned 8 years old. My grandmother died when I was about 3 and my grandfather died when I was 6 or 7 (my memory is fuzzy on the exact timing).

I only have one memory of my grandmother. I remember going over to their house and she picked me up and sat me on the counter next to her and talked to me. I don't know what she said, but I can still remember the love I felt from her as she spoke. Luckily, she left behind a wonderful journal and had it published and given to each of her children. My father had additional copies published which he gifted to each of his children. Being able to read her words helps me feel so close to her. It has helped me come to know a remarkable woman that I otherwise would not have known.

Regarding my grandmother, from everything I have heard, she was an unenthusiastic cook. I don't really blame her though. Reading her journal, she had enough other things to worry about (she had a total of 12 kids! Cooking elaborate meals was probably the last thing on her mind). She made very simple meals. She studied nursing in her youth and during WWII. As evidenced by her nursing skills, her talents lay in many other areas besides cooking. However, she did pass on one absolutely delicious recipe to my mother for roast pork.

It was so fun to make. I had never roasted pork before--I always rely on the slow cooker for things like that. I'm so glad I tried it. It was absolutely delicious. So flavorful. But more than that, it made me wonder how many times she made it, what occasions she made it for, and how many roasts she had to make in order to feed her 12 hungry children and her meat loving husband. I was amazed at how something so physical as food could bring about such a close emotional connection with my grandma for me.

I recently reread some portions of her journal and was surprised to discover that for a good portion of her growing-up years, she lived almost exactly where I am living now. From her descriptions, this area has changed a lot since the 1930's and 1940's, but it was neat to think that she and I have walked the same ground.

As for my grandpa, he was actually a great cook. He was always a food-loving man. While he appreciated the many other talents my grandma had, he still wanted some great cooking from time to time. So, he got his sister (who was reportedly a fantastic cook) to teach him how to cook. We used to go over to my Grandpa's house for Sunday dinners. He used to make the best roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, and South Cottonwood Carrots that you ever tasted (For convenience, I am re-posting that recipe here even though we posted it last year in one of our Thanksgiving posts. It has been one of our Thanksgiving dinner side-dish staples ever since I can remember. If you want to view the original post, you can find it recipe here). And with 12 children and numerous grandchildren, it makes you wonder how much work went into those Sunday dinners. How many pounds of potatoes were peeled? How many roasts were cooked? And it was all done so that we could gather together as a family. I had so much fun with my cousins on those Sundays. I'm glad that it was important enough for my grandparents to go to all that trouble, time, and expense so that we could have those experiences.

But apart from being a meat and potatoes man, my grandpa LOVED chocolate. And the chocolate he loved was GOOD chocolate. Grandpa would carry around these mouth-watering chocolate balls that were wrapped in bright colored foil that was very thin and fun to peel (at least that's what I remembered as a kid). As he drove down his neighborhood, if he saw any children out in their yards, he would throw handfuls of chocolate balls out his car windows onto their lawns as the children scurried to gather it up in excitement. Whenever he went to the bank, he would give the tellers these same chocolate balls. At one of my jobs, about 4 years ago, someone brought in a gift basket and I swear it contained a small bag of those exact same chocolate balls (or something very close to it). I'm afraid I didn't leave any of those chocolate balls for my co-workers! But I don't feel badly about that at all! There were only about 10 small chocolate balls and there were a lot of other goodies left over in the gift basket that my co-workers got to munch on! Besides, they never knew.

Two of my grandpa's favorite chocolate treats to make were chocolate covered strawberries and chocolate coconut haystacks. They are both incredibly simple to make. So simple in fact, that they are dangerous. They are just too easy to make, and thus have around and eat too much of! According to my Mom, my grandpa knew she craved chocolate covered strawberries during one of her pregnancies and he kept surprising her with plate after plate of them as gifts. Also according to my Mom, she gained way too much weight that pregnancy! Can you blame her? Would you be able to resist chocolate covered strawberries? Especially when you were pregnant? I couldn't.

Making (and eating) these chocolate treats for the purpose of this blog post took me right back. It was like a time machine! I just can't help but think of my grandpa and visits to his house when I eat those strawberries and coconut haystacks. It's the same reason I love lilacs. There was a grove of lilac bushes across the street from my grandfather's house that we used to play hide and seek in. As an adult, I realize now how short a span of time lilacs are actually in bloom. But as a child, those lilacs always seemed to be flowering...continually wafting their wonderful and breathtaking perfume as we ran to and fro in between the branches.

My mother also shared with me my grandfather's favorite recipe for chocolate cherry cake.

I'm going to share all of these recipes with you. Now, they won't carry the same connection for you that they do for me (unless you're related to me, of course!). But they are delicious just the same and can be enjoyed in their own right.

Grandma Vivian Mackay's Pork Roast


Pork roast (I used a pork loin roast)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Sage, fresh or dried, to taste
Onion salt, to taste


Sprinkle pork roast with salt, pepper, sage, and onion salt, to taste. Bake in a 300 degree oven for one hour per pound (so, a 3 lb. roast will bake for 3 hours).

Source: As stated above, this wonderful recipe came from my grandmother.

Notes: I cooked my roast in a 9x13 glass dish. I added about 1 cup of water to the bottom of the pan to help the roast stay moist. Once the pork was finished, I used this water, combined with the drippings that were rendered to make a gravy which I served over simple mashed potatoes. I made gravy using prepared pork gravy packets and used the drippings in place of the water called for on the package.

South Cottonwood Carrots


2 lb. grated carrots
1 pt. whipping cream
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Cook on medium to medium-high, stirring often, 45 minutes or so until carrots are caramelized. Everyone's stove-top is a little different. You want the carrots to caramelize, not to burn. This is achieved through a steady low-boil. But watch carefully so that they don't burn.

Serves 8

Source: This was one of my Grandpa Mackay's signature recipes. I'm not sure where he got it from though. Maybe he got it from his sister or maybe he made it up. At any rate, I'm sure glad he passed it on to us. It is super yummy!

Chocolate Covered Strawberries


Chocolate (milk, semi-sweet, dark, or white)


Melt chocolate either in on the stove-top in a double boiler or in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl (by microwaving at 30 second intervals and stirring between each cooking time).

Dip strawberries into the chocolate and spin the strawberries around to coat evenly on all sides. Place coated strawberries on a cookie sheet covered in waxed paper. Place in the refrigerator until the chocolate is set.

You can make the strawberries fancy by drizzling more chocolate (or another kind of chocolate) on top of the strawberries in a pretty pattern. But it's not necessary. It's just more work and they still taste wonderful in their simple form!

Source: Again, this one came from my grandpa.

Notes: I didn't offer any ingredient amounts because it simply depends on how much you want to make. A little chocolate goes a long way though. I would say that a half cup of melted chocolate is enough to coat about 10 strawberries, at least.

Chocolate Coconut Haystacks


Sweetened flaked coconut
Chocolate (milk chocolate, semi-sweet, or dark--your preference)


Toast the coconut. This can be done in the oven (at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes), a toaster oven, the stove-top (over medium heat, stirring frequently), or the microwave (cooked at 15 second intervals and stirred between each cooking time).

Melt the chocolate either in a double-boiler or in the microwave (at 30 second intervals, stirred between each cooking time).

Once the chocolate is melted and smooth, pour the coconut into the chocolate and stir until the coconut is coated completely. Drop by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. Refrigerate until the chocolate is completely set.

Source: Again, this came from my wonderful chocolate loving grandpa!

Notes: Also again, I didn't offer ingredient amounts because it depends on how much you want to make. But it is about a 50/50 ratio. So, for example, 1/2 cup of toasted coconut and 1/2 cup of melted chocolate. Just enough for the coconut to become evenly coated.

If you want to make this prettier and a little less messy, you can place the spoonfuls of the chocolate/coconut mixture into truffle/candy paper cups (they look like miniature cupcake baking cups).

This is honestly one of my favorite chocolate partnerships. Chocolate and peanut butter...check. Chocolate and caramel...check. Chocolate and mint...check. Chocolate and pretty much any kind of fruit...check (see above recipe for proof!). Chocolate and coconut...check (an absolute must!).

Grandpa Clayton Mackay's Favorite Chocolate Cherry Cake



1 chocolate or fudge cake mix
1 can cherry pie filling
1 tsp almond extract (vanilla extract can also be used)
2 eggs, beaten


1 cup sugar
5 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/3 cup milk
6 oz pkg. chocolate chips


Grease a 9x13 or 10x15 pan. In bowl, combine ingredients and stir by hand until well mixed and pour into pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. While cooling, prepare frosting.

Combine sugar, butter, and milk in saucepan. Boil, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips.

Frost the cooled cake with the warm frosting. Serve.

Source: I'm not sure where my grandpa found this recipe...but to me, it came from him!

Notes: We had to use vanilla extract because of my son's tree nut allergy. It was good with the vanilla extract...but it would have been even better with the almond extract.


  1. The chocolate cherry cake was not one he made, but one I made for him. It was in a little book that our Primary Presidency gave to the Primary teachers as a thank you present. It was way back in the day when Primary was on weekdays and the recipes where supposed to make dinner time easier for us hard working teachers who got home late after teaching.

    It was the only recipe that I never shared with anybody because I wanted it to be something that only I could make for Grandpa. He loved them and would dig right in whenever I brought them over to his house.

    I miss them both. They were incredible people.

    I think the one thing about Grandma's cooking was that she was always on a tight budget and just never had a real interest in cooking. Besides, when she did; there was always someone who wouldn't eat what she made. At some point she just didn't want to mess with it. She would rather be painting or reading or serving.

    I'm so glad that I knew them both!

  2. love this post! I wish I had gotten to know them, but I too remember sitting on grandpa's lap eating chocolate balls. How fun to make these recipes and think about these memories. Food is probably one thing that can reaally bring back memories because it envolves so many of the senses.