Cookbook author and homesteader Ashley English is proof that a grandmother's influence during a child's formative years can fire the imagination and cultivate a life's work
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southern from scratch
Credit: Tim Robison

Without question, my maternal grandmother, Ruby Ingram ("Nanny" to me), was the initial woman to light my fire of enthusiasm around all things related to the kitchen. On her pick-your-own blueberry farm in Chesapeake, Virginia, alongside her second husband, John (my "Papa John"), she kept a flock of laying hens, maintained a large kitchen garden, and preserved an impressive amount of fruits and vegetables. It was there as a child that I first gathered and marveled at a freshly laid egg, unearthed a crop of potatoes (buried treasure to my young eyes), and put away jar after jar of bread & butter pickles. We would pick blueberries, laugh at the antics of her rascally goat Harold, and press and can countless quarts of grape juice.

Though I didn't recognize it at the time, Nanny's homesteading pursuits, coupled with my mother's fondness for hosting get-togethers and parties, paved the way for a lifelong interest in all things food. From growing and raising it, to preparing, to preserving, and to serving it, her influence on me in such formative years has proven profound. Nanny's legacy endures with me daily, most recently showing up in my book, Southern From Scratch.

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Nanny passed away at the age of 90 while I was working on my book. In the year before she died, we had many chats while I did recipe testing and research, reminiscing about foods from both of our childhoods. I know she would have been so proud of Southern From Scratch, and I love that I'm able to keep her memory alive every time I fire up the stovetop or warm the oven, pluck a cucumber off the vine, and toss out a handful of scratch for my own flock of chickens.