Calla Jones Corner
Growing up in Weston, Conn. in the 1940s I often helped my Swedish grandmother, Anna, make fläta, a cardamom-laced coffee bread.
My grandmother baked the bread for the family every other week. I would sit at her kitchen table, in my grandparents’ apartment over our garage, helping her roll out the dough to make the perfectly braided loaves.
Maybe they were so perfect because every morning she would braid her long, thick blond hair. There was always a little bit of dough left from the loaves, and she showed me how to tie the left-ever dough into knots to make buns, saying “avfall inte, vill inte.”
That’s Swedish for “waste not, want not.”
Anna had immigrated from Helsingborg, Sweden, when she was 16, along with her elder brothers, Otto and Gus. Anna got a job with a wealthy Manhattan family as a cook. Gus and Otto opened up a candy shop on Second Avenue. They had brought their big, copper cauldrons with them. My great-grandparents made “polkagrisar” — Swedish candy canes.
When my grandparents retired, they came to live with us. Gus and Otto would come out for the occasional weekend.
Once they brought their retired copper cauldrons with them. My father used one for kindling for our fireplace. The others he filled with jade plants. This was recycling by a creative member of the Greatest Generation.
Our family was the only three-generation household in town. We were also probably the only family that spoke another language at home.
I think now of all the families in Italy who still have three generations under the same roof and are losing one precious generation more than any other. It is said that this cultural phenomenon, unique now in Europe, might very well be the reason that Italy has suffered such devastation from COVID-19.
With so many elderly Italians — babysitters, cooks- grape and olive harvesters — succumbing to a virus that jumps from family member to family member, what was once considered a cherished custom has become a curse.
With five grandchildren now in France, I’ve been thinking about how lucky I was to grow up in a three-generation household. Could I, somehow, use my talents and creativity to benefit the family for whom I can’t babysit or cook now?
In February 2020, my husband, Richard, underwent emergency surgery at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for a bleeding aorta.
Our son came down from Marin County, and our daughter came up from Los Angeles to help us. Our daughter brought her juicer with her. Both insisted on bringing fresh juices to Richard every day to combat the effects of multiple drugs and hasten his recovery. I like to think of them as Generation “J” (for juice).
Before they left, they insisted I buy a juicer and I did.
Daily I made juices, meals and desserts out of the pulp. Carrots, beets, celery, cabbage, pineapple — all are provided pulp for my creative juices. The internet was full of recipes. I came up with five that haven’t been written or blogged about.
My first was called Calla’s Upside Down Cake. It’s made with an equal quantity of celery sticks and pineapple slices, a tablespoon of vanilla, a pinch of salt and a simple batter, sprinkled with raisins.
Behind my recipe are memories of Anna saying “avfall inte, vill inte.” Also, I remember my father’s wonderful garden that yielded so much from its rich Connecticut soi, refreshed yearly with compost from a steaming heap, piled high with kitchen and garden waste.
In a time when the world has been turned upside down, baking an upside down cake is my way of doing something that pays homage to two previous generations and, maybe even those that follow.
Listen to Generation J. That’s “J” for juicers.
The author lives in Montecito.