Early in her career, feeling encumbered by her given name Bertha Mae (and who wouldn't), she adopted the more sophisticated name of Bunch. I have no idea what the history was behind this name or what inspired it, but to this day even hearing the word conjures up memories of this beautiful free spirit.
Even though she has been gone for some years now, I still remember that two of her special signatures in life were her intense pride in her Cherokee heritage and her tradition of always painting her front door a deep shade of coral.
She was also a real beauty with long dark wavy hair, piercing blue eyes and a lust for life, often throwing her head back and laughing out loud. I so wish I would have know her as an adult. It would have been so much fun having her as a girlfriend.
By the time we traveled from Texas to see her, Grandma Bunch had moved from her beloved Santa Barbara (I told you she was cool), to a 40 acre ranch outside Visalia complete with an orange grove and swimming pool.
Not only did she treat us to a day at Disneyland, but we swam every day and visited every historic Catholic church and mission in central and southern California. She even bought me a first communion dress while we were there. The funny thing about that was, we weren’t Catholic or even big church goers, but I loved that little lacey white dress and wore it every chance I got (good try Grandma).
Also very memorable to me about this trip was the food she introduced us to while we were there. Grandma Bunch was quite the cook. She made her own sourdough bread, spaghetti sauce and macerated apricots in brandy to serve over ice cream for the adults. I don’t know if I was that impressed or it was my mother’s reaction to these dishes, but they were very memorable all the same. On that trip she coaxed me into trying fried scallops and shish kabob, two foods that remain high on my favorite list to this day.
She also turned us on to one of her favorite discoveries, avocado toast. It was just a simple little recipe for buttered toast with creamy ripe avocado mashed and smeared on top like jam. It was then sprinkled liberally with freshly ground black pepper for an easy and delicious little snack that I still make often.
Over the years I’ve kind of customized Grandma Bunch’s simple little recipe, but frequently still go back to the original for a bit of instant gratification, or when I have super ripe avocadoes that I need to use. I have found that this little recipe can kick up a summer salad supper or help make a simple cup of soup a special meal. With good avocadoes available most of the year, this is a taste of summer you can enjoy anytime.
4 slices rustic bread
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 large tomato sliced into 8 thin slices
1 cup shredded Asiago cheese (or any other sharp flavorful cheese)
1 large ripe avocado, peeled, seeded and mashed
Freshly ground black pepper
Arrange bread in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place in the preheated broiler. Watching carefully, toast until golden brown. Turn bread over and toast the other side lightly (this step can also be done in a toaster). Remove from the oven, butter one side before topping with tomato slices and equal amounts of the Asiago cheese. Return to the broiler, and watching carefully melt the cheese until it is bubbly and golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly before topping with equal amounts of the mashed avocado. Sprinkle with a grinding of black pepper. Serve warm.
No tribute to my grandmother would be complete without something coral colored. Since Whole Foods had small watermelons on sale, I thought a refreshing Watermelon Margarita would go well with the avocado toast. My little watermelon produced approximately 3 cups of strained juice so this is kind of a benchmark for starting your recipe. Since I love sprinkling my watermelon with salt before I eat it, I think that the combination of salty and sweet on the glass rims compliments the watermelon flavor perfectly. Feel free to adjust this recipe to accomodate the amount of juice you get from your melon or to your taste preference.
1 small seedless watermelon
Juice of 3 limes (approximately 6 tablespoons)
1/2 cup simple syrup (1/3 cup granulated sugar to 1/3 cup water, simmered together until sugar is dissolved then cooled)
2/3 cup tequila (or white rum for a daiquiri)
1 - 1/2 ounces orange liqueur
2 teaspoons very coarse salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Remove watermelon pulp from the rind and place in the bowl of a food processor or blender and puree. Over a pitcher, strain pulp through a sieve, pressing pulp with the back of a spoon to extract every bit of juice. To the pitcher add the lime juice, tequila and orange liqueur. Stir well.
Combine the salt and sugar on a flat surface. Run a lime wedger over the rims of four 10 - 12 ounce glasses. Gently dip the glass rims in the salt/sugar mixture to coat. Carefully fill glasses with the desired amount of ice. Give the watermelon mixture one more good stirring before filling glasses. Top each glass with a wedge of lime. Serve immediately. This recipe makes 4 nice big Margaritas.