Relics of a bygone era
I have my Granny’s ancient sifter. It has shiny red apples painted on it and a crank handle with a red wooden knob. I have no idea how old it actually is, but it is OLD. I remember hearing that, in her healthier, more active days, Granny always made a cherry pie on George Washington’s birthday. By the time I was born into the family, Granny’s health was starting to fail and she had slowed down a lot. I don’t remember seeing her cook much when I was a child, but I know that, since Mama and my aunts learned how to cook from her, Granny must have been quite the good Southern cook in her day.
For decades she fed and nourished a husband and 9 children, after all. Mama must have learned how to make cornbread from Granny. I feel confident that Aunt Ruby learned how to make her biscuits from Granny as well. (Like Mama’s cornbread, Aunt Ruby’s biscuits were unique to her, and no one else’s were ever as good. Mercy, what I’d give now for Aunt Ruby’s biscuit recipe in her handwriting!) Aunt Mary, Aunt Martha and Aunt Elaine would have learned lots of their dishes from Granny as well.
Granny’s sifter must have helped make hundreds of pies and thousands of biscuits in her cooking days before it was passed down to Mama, and then to me. It is almost like an hourglass in a way, the fine dust filtering through the mesh screen into a waiting bowl, sifting flour and memories. I wonder what that little sifter would tell me if it could speak?
I can see Granny’s little hands turning the little red knob on the side, or just shaking the whole apparatus to work the flour through. My hands are small like hers were. I can remember Mama teaching me how to make pie pastry and from-scratch cake, explaining the mysteries of when to measure first and then sift, and when to sift first and then measure. (It’s all in how the recipe is written.)
I don’t bake as often as I’d like these days. But when I am able to take the time to make something that needs sifting, I take down Granny’s little red apple sifter to start the process. There is something almost hypnotic about watching clumps of flour transform into fine, snowy powder as they pass through the screen…my hands repeating the motions of Mama’s and Granny’s hands before me, resting where theirs rested and touching what theirs touched, all in the process of Making.