Weekly Newsletter: Kitchen Memories Revisited

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p> Dear Shoppers: If you were able to read the last remembrances of my family — the grandparents who cooked — then maybe you are ready for the next generation and how it influenced me and my siblings to enjoy cooking and sharing with an extended family that has always gravitated to the kitchen in any home we happened to grace. My mother, whom everyone called Sis all her life because her brothers called her that, was the mainstay cook in our home. That meant cooking dinner every night and most often serving meat as the main dish with a starch and a green or yellow vegetable. Unlike my larger family in Harrisonburg, Va., where both my parents grew up, we did not have bread at every meal, and she mixed rice and other starches in with the potatoes. In Harrisonburg there seemed to be potatoes at every opportunity! I am sure my grandmothers slipped them into the breakfast pancakes and the pie crusts too. I have no idea where that originated! My father was the adventurous cook who, when he went to the grocery store with a list, came home with few if any of the items on it. Instead he would buy what looked good — and this was not easy in the ’50s and early ’60s, even in Atlanta where we lived at the time, as the grocery stores were just beginning to carry fresh veggies. I don’t remember ever having broccoli or cauliflower or much of anything green and fresh other than lettuce and cabbage and green beans on occasion from Kroger’s — only from my grandfather’s garden when we visited Harrisonburg in the summer. But if there was anything new or rare or fresh, meaning not canned or frozen, then Daddy would pick it up and bring it home and my mother would ask, “Now Paul, what are you going to do with that?” He usually had no idea at the time he bought it, but he would start going through the cookbooks, certainly The Joy of Cooking but also some other books he picked up along the way, and he would find a recipe that used what he had bought. He also fished and hunted occasionally with friends who would go down to the Gulf to fish or to south Georgia to hunt, and I did “taste” quail (which does NOT taste like chicken) and venison (too rich for me) as a child. And I nearly flew into an ecstatic fit when I ate pompano and red snapper for the first time. I have mentioned before Daddy’s Famous Spaghetti Sauce, a recipe that he concocted from a cookbook that he bought at a restaurant in NYC. Every boyfriend of mine or my sisters who ever came to dinner was served that spaghetti. I eventually served it to my husband shortly after we met at UNC in Chapel Hill for the first dinner I ever cooked for him. I still have Daddy’s handwritten copy of the recipe that he sent me for that occasion, which is nearly illegible from all the tomato spills on it — it will move on to the family scrapbook one of these days, but I am not ready to part with it yet. So between Sis, who really came into her own in the kitchen as we moved out of the house one by one, and my father, who used cooking as a creative outlet and as an opportunity to teach, I came away with a love of cooking if not a love of all the things we cooked. But that was so much more than many of my friends at that time inherited; those were the years when “convenience” began to creep into the cooking lexicon and when ingredients began to come in cans and other packaging. And as my generation moved into their own kitchens and began to work outside the home, it seemed so easy to eat well with all of those products instead of just eating the food. And look where that landed us! I am more grateful than ever now to have memories of real food cooked in the kitchens we lived in and visited all our lives pretty much from “scratch” — and often I bring something home from the market not knowing what I am going to make with it until I too am inspired just as Daddy was. That’s the way to cook and that’s the way to eat — the food comes first, then the dish. May you remember this as you wander the market this week and get creative on your own. And we will be happy to supply a recipe or two so you have an answer to the inevitable question: “What are you going to do with that?” See you at the market!