I never thought of that until I heard Michael Pollen say it. This made me understand why I was always upset when I made a good dinner for Barry and he let it get cold or, worse, said he wasn’t hungry. I thought it was because I had labored in the kitchen and he was unappreciative of my efforts. Well, maybe that was part of it, but I also planned to eat this meal.
Maybe why I was furious with him was because I was showing him my love and he didn’t get it. I didn’t get it. I cooked dishes I knew he enjoyed. I wanted to please him and show him my love. Sadly, I could have made him a peanut butter sandwich and he would have been happy.
This idea takes me back to my mother who cooked three meals every day. We had eggs, bacon, grits and homemade biscuits every morning that I can remember. The eggs came from the nests in the barn. The bacon, in the early years, came from hogs raised on our farm. Mother stood at the counter and rolled out the biscuits by hand until she filled a large cookie sheet. I wonder how she knew how many flaky, ready-for-homemade-butter delights would come from that mound of sticky dough. Sometimes when Gay and I were little girls, she would make “baby biscuits” for us.
As soon as breakfast dishes were done, Mother began preparing dinner which was our mid-day meal. In summer my brothers were home and, with my father, worked in the fields. Mother felt such empathy for all of them and said she was grateful that she didn’t have to work outside as her mother and her older sisters had done. Daddy never wanted or expected her to do man’s work on the farm.
But she never stopped working at her job – feeding her family. She barely had time to make the beds and pickup around the house before she went to the garden to pick peas, butter-beans, or cut okra for the next meal. Once she had gathered the ingredients she had to make them ready to cook. Corn had to be shucked, peas and beans shelled and okra cut in little pieces. Tomatoes were peeled and sliced.
One of my favorite dishes my mother made was what I call South Georgia vegetable soup. The shelled peas and butterbeans went into a large pot along with okra cut into small slices. She added fresh tomatoes and corn cut off the cob. The soup came straight from the garden. She seasoned the pot with a piece of salt pork. She added black pepper and salt to taste. That was it and I salivate when I remember how good that was with her scrumptious cornbread made from basic corn meal, eggs, milk, baking soda and salt.
Of course soup alone was not enough to fill five working men. With that soup she would have ham or pork chops, mashed potatoes, and fried okra cooked and smashed into a soft mass seasoned perfectly. I have never mastered that dish. Because some of the family preferred biscuits to cornbread, she also made another batch of them. She didn’t have to put away left-overs. There were none.
She watched us eat and, I realize now, she joyed in the love she had spread on the table for us. What greater expression of her love for her family than to spend hours every day preparing that which we must have to live, to function and thrive in life?
When I was a young girl, I wondered how she could be so pleasant and happy. I thought she had a hard life. She seldom had nice things, or traveled, or met new and interesting people. She never had a day off.
Today I had an Aha moment when I heard Michael Pollen, the author, speak. She was doing what she wanted to do – cooking for her family. And that is why, at the age of seventy, after the aneurysm damaged her memory and she was not allowed to cook for Daddy and herself, she seemed sad and disappointed. Thankfully, Barbara, the housekeeper and helper, asked Mother to teach her to make biscuits, potato salad and other favorite dishes, and Mother could tell her. The memories from years ago surfaced. Soon Barbara was claiming my mother’s recipes as her own.
I didn’t learn to cook like Mother although I called her often for advice right after I married. Mother didn’t cook from recipes. She created her own and kept them in her head. Today I can do that, too. Some of my favorite dishes are my own creation. But I don’t write it down so I seldom cook that dish again in the same way.
Did you ever think that cooking was a way of showing your love or is it just another chore?