Foraging From The Past

Welcome to the •r blog and my first post. Fridays are going to be all about food—photos of food, videos of food, recipes, musings. Today I thought I would share a little of how I became so interested in food—the eating of it, cooking it, writing about it, photographing and videotaping it…ok maybe a bit obsessed with it.

Hand-Picked Farm Veggies

In a lot of ways, food and the table for me are about memory, about home, about comfort. Some of my first recollections of being interested in food and its preparation come from my grandmothers’ kitchens. Both of them were amazing cooks…nothing fancy, mind you—but ALWAYS delicious. What I have mostly are snippets of memories, aromas, flavors that can transport me immediately to my grandmother’s kitchen, out to the kitchen garden or into the orchards and vines.

One of my fondest food memories is my paternal granmother’s (Mamaw Rachel’s [pronounced “MAM-awe”]) apple dumplings. She always let me help her make them (with my tiny hands turning the big sifter in the white wood and metal Hoosier cabinet, my FAVORITE part). We would roll the dough together on her red formica table, slice apples and butter sticks and make huge balls filled with apples, cinnamon, sugar and butter wrapped in what would be the flakiest dough you can imagine. She always let me use the sharp knife (as a small child this was an enormous responsibility) to slice into the dumpling flesh little vents for the steam to rise out. Then a sweep of egg white and a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar on top. I was quite proud of my accomplishments. And then I got to eat them. But first came the longest stretch of time known to a little girl—cooling. I had to sit and watch the gorgeous dumplings vent their steam, sitting in a row on the Hoosier cabinet’s little shelf in their “Blue Willow” bowls from the A&P. OH THE SMELL! = Heaven. Once cooled enough, but not too much, it was time to put ice cream on it and dive in to the flaky, oozing deliciousness.

Beautiful heirloom tomatoes at the farmers' market in Charlottesville, VA

 

Tomatoes. Even now, the smell of a fresh-picked, gorgeous, ripe tomato gives me chills of delight. One of my earliest memories ever of food is eating sliced tomatoes with my Grandpap Dan. He would take me by my teensy hand, my long braided pigtails flopping about as I bounced along to keep up, out into the garden, through the tall, waving rows of corn, past the bean poles wild with their vines and into the tomatoes. We would search for the biggest, reddest, juiciest-looking tomato we could find. He always let me pick it. I love that smell. It must be what green smells like, that pungent snap of tomato from vine. Then Grandpap would scoop me and my tomato up and carry us back into the house. He’d get out two plates and divide thick slices for us to share—bright red, perfectly ripe, never mealy, oozing its tangy juices onto the plate and my chin. We’d eat silently, smiling knowingly at each other—such a simple pleasure.

 

Aunt Charla's photo of her turkey this year in Memaw Mae's old house

 

Home means family and that generally means family meals and best of all, holiday meals. This takes us to my maternal grandmother’s (Mee-maw Mae’s) house, the magical place of all things Thanksgiving and Christmas and also home of her famed creamed lima beans. My mother and I would always arrive early to help with the cooking. Memaw had 7 kids of whom my mother was eldest. So you can imagine there was an enormous turkey, golden, crispy skinned and well-stuffed, all the über traditional sides but also the creamed limas and then pies, LOTS of pies. There were always a lot of Aunts, Uncles and cousins in every room. We had the classic kids’ card table in the kitchen so the adults would fit around the dining room table—usually twelve at that table and eight or so of us cousins in the kitchen fighting over the last of the mashed potatoes.

 

Aunt Charla's picture of her pies, the same ones Memaw Mae always made.

 

Relishing in these childhood memories is an enormous source of comfort to me and quite possibly one of the greatest joys I find in all aspects of food—everything from growing vegetables, to finding beautiful cuts of meat (My Great Uncle Glenn and Great Aunt Ruth raised Black Angus…but that is another post for another Friday.) to preparing a savory meal for family and friends or even dining out. A whiff of melted butter beginning to release the perfume of an onion, a vegetable prepared “just so”, the glorious melange of aromas floating from a kitchen, all can take me back to my roots in a flash, as if I’m there again, holding my grandfather’s hand, delicately slicing into a dumpling’s flesh, or feasting with family long ago. Now whenever I am cooking, or eating I always have a subtle smile on my face, remembering my grandparents, my family, my first recollections of love for food—it means welcoming, sharing in the pleasures of preparing meals in the kitchen and then delighting in them at the table.

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