Last week I noticed the R.I. Office of Healthy Aging put out a call on Facebook to get 100 likes for the 100th birthday of Lolly Grello.
I know Lolly to be a warm, lovely woman who was such a fantastic cook, she was featured on The Journal food pages ten years ago. Yes, she was 90 and she baked up a French meat pie for me in her immaculate kitchen.
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Now a resident of Roberts Health Centre in North Kingstown, she celebrated her birthday on May 21 with her family via Zoom.
I thought I’d add my belated Happy Birthday Lolly! here, and share not only her meat pie recipe, but also one for her stuffed prune cookie.
Lolly started making her French meat pies for her family to celebrate New Year’s back in the 1970s.
As they grew up, and made their own homes, everybody in the family got their own pie. And that family only grew from her three children (Frances, Anthony and Patricia) to include many grandchildren and even more great-grandchildren.
Back then, she said her single resignation to aging was to switch to using Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust.
Lolly learned to cook as her mother did – with a sprinkle here and a handful there. She can still impart her mother’s wisdom:
“She always said you can make an extra dish.”
Lolly wasn’t just a cook, she was a big baker, too. Her specialties included an excellent custard pie, a lemon pie with a meringue crust, and those stuffed prune cookies for Christmas.
“They all want recipes from me,” she said. “But I have the recipes in my head.”
One exception is the yellowed recipe card for the meat pies. Though Lolly is of Italian descent, her friend Pauline had French roots and shared her best recipe for meat pies, called tourtire by French Canadians.
She was married to her late husband Anthony for 69 years. When the two spent the winters in Florida, she did a lot of cooking and had a nickname in the neighborhood. They called her “The Cooking Lady.”
Lolly Grello’s French Meat Pie
Crust for two 9-inch pies (4 sheets)
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1/4 cup butter, unsalted
1 small onion chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon sage
1/4 teaspoon parsley
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon mace
2 cups water
2 teaspoons cornstarch diluted with water
1 stack of unsalted Saltine Crackers, crushed
Milk for brushing crust
Saut meat in butter and cook until no longer pink. Add onion, seasonings and water and cook for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Add cornstarch and cook a little longer; then add crackers.
Spoon meat mix into 2 crust-lined 9-inch pie plates. Divide mixture between the two; about three cups each.
Top each with second crust. Press edges together to seal and seal with fork.
Brush top crust with milk. Pierce holes in crust with fork and bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes. Lower heat to 375 degrees and bake for 35 minutes or until baked on top.
Makes two pies.
Note: Use Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust for convenience.
Lolly Grello’s Prune Cookies
6 cups all purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup Crisco shortening
1 cups sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla
Prune Filling (see recipe)
Prune Cookie Glaze (see recipe)
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and set aside. In another bowl, combine shortening and sugar and beat with mixer until smooth. Add milk and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time.
Add this mixture to dry ingredients and mix together by hand with a large spoon. Once incorporated (and with lightweight “kitchen-type” gloves, if possible), finish mixing with your hands until it comes together into a smooth dough.
Transfer to a floured surface, and use a knife to cut dough into six pieces. Roll each piece out into a long strip (approximately 13-14″ long and about 7″ wide), one at a time, and fill center of strip with a portion of the Prune Filling. Fold each side over the middle and fold the ends under. Place filled strip on parchment-lined cookie sheet (two strips per sheet) with seam side down.
Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and cool completely.
Top each strip with glaze, and add nonpareils, if desired.
Let the glaze set (harden) before slicing into cookies.
Note: The strips can be frozen without glaze for later use. To freeze, wrap individually, first in parchment paper and then in heavy-duty foil. When needed, thaw completely and add glaze.
1 large box of pitted prunes (18 ounces or more)
pound raisins (dark, not golden)
cup granulated sugar
cup strong black coffee
Zest of one lemon
Zest of one orange
10-ounce jar maraschino cherries, drained and chopped
cup coffee brandy or Kahla
Cover prunes and raisins with water in a pot. Add sugar, coffee, lemon zest, orange zest, the half lemon and the half orange. Cook until prunes and raisins are soft to the touch. Drain well and return to pot. Add chopped cherries and coffee brandy or Kahla. Mix well and refrigerate overnight or for several days.
Prune Cookie Glaze
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
4 tablespoons lemon juice
3 to 4 tablespoons hot water (start with 3 and add more as needed)
Multicolored nonpareils (optional, for decorating)
Mix all ingredients except nonpareils until smooth.
The glaze may be adjusted for consistency and flavor, but these ingredients should frost six strips.
On Twitter: @gailciampa
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