Once, I asked my mom if she thought my Grandma Ruby had a recipe for her peach cobbler.
“No,” she said simply, firmly. “That was just something she made.”
My Grandma Ruby was an outstanding cook. I don’t remember her making anything bad, except for that time late in life when she added too much sage to the Christmas Day dressing and it turned green. We should have realized her mind was slipping then, but we didn’t—or we didn’t want to—and we ate it anyway.
But for most of my life, Grandma Ruby was an amazing cook. She made pies and cobblers, cakes and caramel corn. When she’d keep my brother and me on a night when my parents had to go somewhere without us, she’d pop us popcorn on the stovetop, a time-honored tradition long gone out of style by that time. She canned; she made jellies; she tried new things. For years, she made lunch for her “boys” (that’s what she called her sons, even when their hair had gone as gray as hers) every day. At her funeral, I was struck by the number of people who told me how they had often sat at her table and what a good cook she’d been.
Truth be told, I took most of her cooking skills for granted. I didn’t realize as a child that those opportunities to sit at her table and hang out in her kitchen were fleeting—and I sometimes wish that I had taken advantage of more of them. If I’m being honest, I don’t remember a lot of the dishes she made; I just remember that they were good.
But there’s one thing she made that I can never forget: her peach cobbler. A double crust baked to golden perfection. Soft, juicy peaches and a thick, beautiful peach-colored filling. Served warm with a little vanilla ice cream on top, it was perfection. It was and remains my favorite dessert. Ever.
I don’t know if my grandma knew that. I’m sure she knew I liked peach cobbler, but I don’t know that she knew I thought hers was the best I’d ever tasted. I wish that I had asked her how to make it or even helped her, but as a child and a teenager who thought she had the world by the tail, it never occurred to me. Until it was too late and Alzheimer’s or dementia had robbed her mind of the recipe.
Years ago, when I’d moved out on my own and carved out a life for myself in another state about four hours from my Midwestern roots, I found a recipe that reminded me of hers. And I messed with it, adjusting this and adding that, until the result reminded me of her peach cobbler.
It’s good, but it’s still not perfect. It’s still not quite as good as Grandma Ruby’s.
But I still make it often, for friends, for work, for church. Many times, when people are gathered around my table, it’s the dessert I choose to make. And I remember the gift of hospitality my grandma gave to so many people.
And I hope that when they sit at my table, they get just a little taste of that gift.