I come from a long line of southern cooks. Hand prepared meals are our family love language. For every occasion, there is a recipe. For every cook, there is a taste. When we sat down to eat Thanksgiving dinner, each person was represented on our plate. Both Grandmothers, my Aunt Betty, and of course Mom. The morsels are memories. Each bite brings back nostalgic days from the past as if we were there again. All together. A special meal is our family history on a plate.
It is no surprise then, that I have struggled to change my viewpoint of food from fun to fuel. To untie it from the emotions that go with it and to simply eat to provide my body energy. It seems to me it would be a lot easier if there wasn’t a memory associated with every bite I take. I know, “it’s only food.” But, to me it is so much more than that.
This Thanksgiving we had our usual family favorites. We reconvened our ancestors, with the smells of the past. Each dish, adding to the plethora of aromas. There was laughter and conversation in the background, and if I listened carefully I could almost hear the women of the past in the kitchen chatting while they prepared the food.
As we lost each member of the cooking brigade, my sister became the keeper of the recipes. The cookbooks, the recipe cards, the boxes of love made visible by handwritten recipes along with their notes fell to her. Notes like, “Great pie!”, “Do not overcook, it gets mushy!”, “Use coconut as sweetener”, “It’s better if made ahead”. Even Mom’s recipe boxes have already found their way to Melinda’s house as she fades away slowly.
To open her box is to time travel. It is to remember her days dishing up hospitality for anyone who would sit at her table. It is to see her apron-clad, flanked by my grandmother and aunt, standing over the stove with some heavenly aroma wafting through the air in the steam rising. It is to feel the breeze coming through the kitchen window, picking up the smells and delivering them to the whole house. Love on the breeze.
Love on a notecard, handwritten, from the kitchen of… It’s a history book really. A family legacy. Passed along to the next generation. And though we don’t cook the same way any longer, due to time as well as calorie/fat/carb constraints, we walk through the cards and smile. We remember. Grief is softened by the fond memories of many cooks in the kitchen. Our ancestors’ recipes written in their own handwriting, telling our story.
Our seasonal family dinners are when we break out the stories. In the dishes we prepare (adjusted somewhat to combat clogging our arteries), we hear the laughter of our foremothers. This year, Melinda scanned the some of the most loved recipes and made copies for each grandkid. From our generation to theirs. Passing the love on down the line…from the kitchens of…