Searching for Abuela in the Kitchen

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of five essays celebrating Abuela’s during Mother’s Day week 2011 on the Tiki Tiki. To read the other essays, visit the intro essay.

lydia p. harris squidmomBy Lydia P. Harris

My mother’s mother was small but mighty. Her skin already was creased when I knew her. She was creased not wrinkled. Her skin was powdered silk and etched like the delicate lines you find behind leaves.

She was gifted with many things. She could grow a plant from just the leaves of another. Her small house was a virtual rain forest in the barrio where she lived. She was strong, she single-handedly got her large family through the Great Depression and they never knew what is was to go hungry.

My mom has memories of her scouring empty fields for edible roots, plants that grew wild and that others never knew to even consider as a food source. And she could cook! I still remember her tamales, tortillas, wedding cookies…so many good things.

I remember her slapping masa on her  table, hands deftly forming disks, then rolling out tortilla after tortilla. She did it so quickly. On New Year’s Eve this dough became bunuelos and all of my mother’s family gathered at her little house. We spilled out onto the lawn in front and in back, getting re-acquainted with one another. My sisters, my brother and I with our many, many cousins. My grandmother tied us together and when she passed away those ties snapped. I never see my cousins anymore.

I really miss my grandma on days like these. Days that I worry my daughters aren’t experiencing enough of the culture I was lucky to be immersed in. Days that I’ve spent trying to find the recipe for the dishes my grandma made so effortlessly. She didn’t follow recipes, everything she cooked was written in her heart — you felt her love with every bite.

But not following recipes means not having your recipes printed out. And anyone who is lucky enough to know them as you did most likely learned them beside you, not from a print out. Alas, my mother has never liked cooking — and when she was offered the chance to learn what my grandma could teach her, she declined.

She regrets that. I regret that. It’s a part of my grandmother that I’d love to have to myself. That I’d love to share with my children and their children.

But one of my aunts knows those recipes. My aunt has my grandmother’s hands, my mother likes to say. And I know that she means that everything my aunt puts her hand to she does well. Be it plants or crocheting, sewing…or cooking.

And I am tempted to re-acquaint myself with her, this aunt I respect but also find formidable. I, of the awkward hands, who has a thirst for knowledge.

My aunt doesn’t follow recipes either. Any recipe learned from her would be acquired apprentice-like. And while I almost ache for such a thing I feel presumption in even asking. My aunt, the one among many of my mothers family with whom I’ve lost touch, who even my mom has lost touch with.

But I must. I feel this deep in my heart — before another lost chance leaves more regret behind it. Before those ties are severed for good. Even though I feel embarrassed at my lack of seeking before now. Even though I feel embarrassed at my awkward hands.

I must reconnect or I face regretting forever my chance to be close to my grandma again

Lydia Puente Harris is married to an English artist and they have two lovely girls. She enjoys painting, baking, writing, and anything that allows her to be creative. She is a third generation American, whose people hail from Mexico and Spain.  Find Lydia at Squidmom.

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By Contributor on May 6, 2011 · Posted in the habla habla

5 Comments | Post Comment

Cinco de Mayo will be celebrated on Saturday, okay? says:

[...] makes me incredibly happy, a post I wrote in the past and rewrote just for them is featured at Tikki Tikki blog's websitetoday!!! Can you pleease swig by there and give them some love? It'd make me forever in your debt [...]

Posted on May 6th, 2011

Lydia says:

Thank you again so much for featuring my post. I’ve really been loving the abuela posts this week. :)
Lydia´s last [fabulousness] ..Cinco de Mayo will be celebrated on Saturday- okay

Posted on May 6th, 2011

Alexandra says:


What a wonderful essay on your abuela.

Abuelas are HUGE in our culture.

And you are right…I miss my grandmother daily. She was there for me everyday, I never imagined a world without her.

I miss her so much.

I’d ask her so many more things right now.
Alexandra´s last [fabulousness] ..Sunday Best – Love in the Chaos

Posted on May 6th, 2011

Sue Valencia says:

Ay Lidia, so beautiful! Reconnect I say! If your heart is yearning for this, just go for it. I´m sure your Tía will be more than happy you are honoring your grandma´s talents by wanting to learn from them.
Thank you for sharing such a beautiful part of your life.
Un abrazo!
Sue Valencia´s last [fabulousness] ..Verano de cambios

Posted on May 6th, 2011

Lydia says:

Alexandra and Sue, thank you both so much. I really appreciate that! :) Grandmas really are important and mine is really missed. I’d have a lot of questions myself. Sue- I do think you are right, and days seem to pass by so quickly now that I’m older.
Lydia´s last [fabulousness] ..Cinco de Mayo will be celebrated on Saturday- okay

Posted on May 7th, 2011