Remembering a Generous Relative

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Barbara Jackson, center, with brother Joe Appleton and sister Sherry Constable

I was reminded this past weekend why I am doing what I do now – combining my love of good food and working to help good people into a pretty nice gig. I was reminded by the voices of memory, by the children and siblings of a dear cousin, Barbara A. Jackson, who died tragically and too soon three weeks ago.

My family met to celebrate her life Saturday along the banks of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River at her sister’s farm. Amid all the memories involving her love of food and cooking was one particularly close to my heart. My cousin Barbara was the member of the family who took over the job of making the squash bisque that I took to our Thanksgiving reunions for over 10 years. Finally some years ago she offered to make it herself so that I could bring something new to replace it. And I was quite happy to have her do that. I still make the recipe at home and sometimes bring it to market for sampling, as it is one of our most popular and simplest recipes.

In speaking of Barbara at the gathering, her brother told us a secret about that offer. As it turned out, Barbara hated the chore of making that soup because she almost always made it for a crowd of at least 40 and usually more for our Thanksgivings and other events. I know just how she felt about peeling all those acorn squash. I even told her once that I had tried just baking the squash and then scooping out the softened meat of the squash to add to the soup before pureeing it. But it didn’t taste the same because the squash missed being cooked together with the minced veggies and the potatoes in the broth. So she wasn’t having any of that idea, either.

So we both persevered for all those years until just over a year ago when I learned something new. I happened to watch a segment of Jamie Oliver’s At Home series on PBS and saw him peel the squash for another dish by taking off only about two-thirds of the outer rind, which is just like him – he always avoids removing any part of a vegetable just for show. I had reminded myself just a few weeks ago to let Barbara know about a tip that was worth taking before Thanksgiving rolled around this year.

In his talk, her brother Joe assured us that Barbara didn’t regret her offer at all and stuck with her commitment out of love and out of that nurturing instinct so prevalent in my family. If even one person loved that soup and expected to enjoy it on Thanksgiving, she was not going to disappoint them. I missed my chance to lighten her load a little, but I won’t regret that – she never wanted any of her children or anyone else to regret anything they did, just to learn and move on.

I need to update the introduction you see at the beginning of this recipe. It will mention Barbara as the good and gracious (and old) soul who adopted the recipe as her own and brought it to Thanksgiving dinner for at least 10 years. And I will make it again this year in her honor and in honor of a family that loves to cook and eat good food. Those opportunities to cook and eat together will always be with us as some of our best memories. I hope that it is true for your families.