Friday, March 28, 2008

Food and Childhood

My early childhood was spent in the Deep East Texas backwoods, in a farmhouse we shared with my great grandmother. My mother took care of my "Grandma" who was very old with long white hair and skin like tracing paper. I remember distinctly her small, green bottle of smelling salts. I also remember the kitchen, my mother and Aunt Willie (who was a true saint and is a story for another day) cooking together.

We had cattle so there was almost always beef, fried chicken and cornbread and big pots of collard greens. I remember shucking corn by the basket and shelling black eyed peas by the bushel. There was a lot of salty, a lot of fried. The women in the kitchen were the emotional constant in my chaotic and sometimes violent little world. Is it any wonder I grew up to love cooking and being in the kitchen?

The cooking of my childhood followed my family out of the Texas backwoods and into the cities where I grew up. I was well into high school before I tasted whole wheat bread. I knew nothing but well-done steak until I went away to college. I didn't have a bagel until my twenties.

Although my ideas about food have changed radically since I grew up, I still crave the comfort foods of my youth. If I have a really bad day, I am much more likely to reach for something fried and salty (oh, my mother's homemade french fries!) than ice cream.

The lesson I carried with me from that old steamy kitchen is this: no matter what you cook, cook it with love. With love even the worst cooking disasters can be salvaged or you can always, lovingly, order a pizza.

Thanks, Mrs. G., for giving me the idea.


  1. What a beautiful post...lovely, lovely writing!

  2. Oh, thank you. You are always so kind, Karen.

    Enjoy your weekend!

  3. I love this post-warm and cozy just like a kitchen filled with love.

    I haven't had decent collard greens since I left Tennessee. I talked to my mom last night, and she had made a big dish of banana pudding-with vanilla wafers around the edges. Good, good food.

  4. Makes me want to visit that kitchen!

    Nice writing.

  5. Makes me think of my grandma's kitchen. My mom's parents were from Arkansas. I miss that cooking! A nice stirfry with tofu is just not the same thing.

  6. This was beautiful...and has inspired me to call my 95-year-old-grandma...from whom I learned many things about cooking. The woman never used a cookbook or measured anything...she, like the ladies in your childhood kitchen, is a treasure.
    Your post has brought back many memories...and I'm with you on the comfort food--give me some fried okra or squash anytime and I will be a happy camper!!