My youngest daughter now lives in Florida. When her family arrived in town for an extended holiday stay, she announced that she was going to make red-eye gravy by four different recipes she had found, to see which one we liked best. She did this because of my occasional references to my maternal grandmother’s gravy, which is a tantalizing memory from my youth.
Do you associate certain dishes with certain cooks? Am I alone in that regard, or is that a common memory process? As those of us who are older look back down memory lane, do we begin to salivate when we remember certain recipes, and does that inevitably bring a particular person to mind?
My grandparents lived in the creek bottoms south of Malvern in an old, two-story house that just reeks of history. My mother was born in it in 1929, and my uncle lives there today. Until recently, in their yard was the largest pecan tree I have ever seen.
They had a large dining room with a long table. My grandfather was a farmer, and they always had a pen of hogs, and so always had ham. When Granny would get through cooking the ham on those cold, winter mornings, she would make red-eye gravy with the leftover grease. It broke every rule of cholesterol prevention; but when you put it on those hot, homemade biscuits, who cared about cholesterol?
I enjoy food, and I like to talk about it. I have said many times publicly that I did not marry my wife because of her sweet and sour meatballs, but I probably would have. When I arrive in the house and smell that distinctive aroma, I know that either we have company coming, or she has done something for which she figures atonement may be necessary. I do not know if the way to a man’s heart really is through his stomach, but I do not recall ever having been angry with her while I was eating those meatballs.
(At this point we will take a break so that my mouth can water. I am afraid the moisture might damage my laptop.)
What about my other (paternal) grandmother? She had ten children, and the family has passed down stories about the prodigious numbers of biscuits that she and the girls would make every morning. But what I remember best about her cooking is her shortbread cookies. She always seemed to have some in the kitchen whenever we grandchildren were around, and since there were 32 of us, that was much of the time. Whenever I taste that kind of cookie, I automatically think of Grandma Green.
My mother is a wonderful cook, and of course, I got to enjoy more variety from her kitchen than anywhere except for my wife’s. Thus, it is difficult to pick one dish that I particularly associate with her. However, if forced to make a choice, I think it probably would be fried okra. Honestly, I could sit down and eat an entire meal of nothing but her fried okra.
My mother-in-law had several dishes that she made particularly well, which she usually prepared for holiday meals. She had a recipe for green bean casserole that was superb, and she could fix roast beef and gravy that absolutely would melt in your mouth.
Ah, those were the good old days, back when cooks were cooks! And to be frank, I do not recall ever having looked at a homely woman across a table filled with fresh home cooking. Full bellies somehow affect our eyesight. (Young wives need to remember that.)