When I reflect upon my love for cooking and baking, I know it was not only nurtured, but also stemmed from a strong hereditary place. I think of my days as a young girl and I remember baking cookies with my mother, cutting cheese in decorative shapes with my grandma and making pies from scratch with my grandmother.
My mother, a fantastic cook, would teach me to peel carrots and make spaghetti squash (quite possibly my favorite activity) to help her put dinner on the table. She taught me the importance and love that goes into a home cooked meal, at the table, as a family every night. This is something I try to stay true to every day of my life, and hope to pass along to my children as well.
My grandma is a true entertainer – a home-cooked meal is only half of the experience, it is the presentation, the theme and the attention to detail. She taught me decorative garnishes, how to make a hog dog into a turkey for Thanksgiving (don’t ask) and how to throw an amazing theme party. I have clearly inherited her passion for entertaining, as I throw themed book club parties and buy various serving platters to perfectly match the food served on it. She has taught me that the whole dining experience is a way in which to catch up with old friends and show loved ones that they are, indeed, loved.
And my grandmother was a southern traditionalist. You would never, under any circumstances, find a pre-made pie crust in her freezer. When we spent holidays and family visits in her home in Tennessee and later Alabama, most of the visit included grandmother and I in the kitchen for hours, making anything from an elaborate Thanksgiving feast, to a homemade rhubarb pie, to a banana pudding dessert that was my granddaddy’s favorite. That love of cooking and baking existed just as much when she visited us in Michigan – exemplified by my fondest memory of making a carrot cake and putting frosting decorative carrots on the white cream cheese frosting.
With my grandmother, it wasn’t the destination, it was the journey. It wasn’t a means to putting food in bellies or even for entertaining friends and family. For my grandmother, it was the act of spending an afternoon in the kitchen, making from-scratch foods with the predominant ingredient always being love. It was putting something on the table that was made with her two hands – no shortcuts.
And, as I reflect on my culinary childhood, I realize that I embody each one of my female mentors. I have learned the importance (and sometimes healing nature) of a home-cooked meal from my mother, the art of entertaining with love from my grandma – and from my grandmother I learned to enjoy the journey.
And lately, especially in the past few years – I have not just learned to enjoy the journey, but I find a small obsession with it. On a Sunday afternoon when most are shopping, cleaning the house and watching football, you generally find me in the kitchen, making something from scratch that I easily could have bought in the store. That journey has taught me to slow down, enjoy life’s pleasures and take pride in my ability to make something fantastic out of many ingredients.
My friends and co-workers always ask me where I got this from. Why do I feel the strange need on a Sunday to make maple nut bars and bring them to friends? That answer is easy – my grandmother.
On Saturday, November 6, we laid my grandmother to rest. She was 93 years old and had been married to my loving granddaddy for 68 of them. She was such a large part of my life in so many ways, and taught me more than I could ever put in this blog entry. But, when I cook or bake – I think of her most. When I think of why I have the strange desire to make a pie on a Sunday afternoon, I know that is a part of her inside me. That passion for food comes from her.
So, as sad as saying goodbye to her was this past weekend, I celebrate her life – as a wife, a mother, grandmother, a great grandmother, and a cook. And I thank her for instilling me in a love for the journey, something I will keep with my the rest of my life.
Dedicated to Philomene Miller Stone, 1917 – 2010.