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[personal profile] ckocher

I come from a long line of Southern women. Strong women. Crazy women. Feisty women.

Women who cook.

One of my greatest regrets was that I only learned to love cooking after I moved to New York, far away from that line of women. Before I had the chance to realize what those moments in the kitchen meant to me, they started dying. An aunt, then a cousin, and then my grandmother. And suddenly, all that cooking was gone with them.

I asked my mom to find their recipe books, to make copies, to send me what was left. I craved my Nanny’s chess pie, my Aunt Helen’s canned grean beans, my cousin Laura’s hushpuppies. But there are no recipes, my mother told me. They just cooked, they didn’t need recipes.

I’ve spent the last ten years trying to recreate those dishes, wandering through my memories, remember family gatherings and the food those women would make. My grandmother would cook a kind of Mexican spaghetti on the weekends when I would pop over for a surprise visit. She was one of those women who created meals from whatever was in the pantry – there was no going out to the store for special ingredients just to make a meal. I spent over two years deconstructing that dish – trying version after version, taking away ingredients here and there, and adding new ones. I finally hit on a close version but it still wasn’t quite the same. It wasn’t hers.

Her pea salad was a bit easier. I was so very close  – and I finally got it right when my mother sent me a can of peas from the grocery store near my grandmother’s house. They didn’t sell that brand up here, and apparently, that’s what it needed for everything to click.

It’s become more and more apparent, though, that no matter how much I take the recipes apart and put them back together again, it’s just not the same. My cornbread and milk just isn’t the same because I’m not eating it while sitting at the dining table with my grandfather late at night, the house dark and silent everywhere but the kitchen. He didn’t take the leftover cornbread from supper, crumble it into a glass, and pour milk over it. He didn’t hand me the long teaspoon to eat it with.

My fried catfish just isn’t the same because my grandmother didn’t spend Saturday at the pond, three fishing rods set out before her, as she contentedly whiled away the day just fishin’. It just isn’t the same because my grandfather didn’t clean them out back, or carefully pick out the bones before giving me my plate.

It’s the same story with the wilted lettuce and onions, the squash casserole, the fried green tomatoes. I’ve tried making them, I’ve spent hours tearing the process apart and trying to rebuild it. But there’s that one, vital ingredient missing – my family.

I’ll keep trying though. I’ll mutter when the cornbread is too sweet, when the chicken fried steak is too tough, or when the potato soup is too runny. I’ll keep trying because even in those moments of frustration, the women of my family are in the kitchen with me. Even if they are laughing at me.

Especially if they are laughing at me.



***** This is my entry for [livejournal.com profile] therealljidol - I hope you enjoy it. If you did enjoy it, I would appreciate your vote so that I can move forward with the competition! *****

Date: 2010-11-12 04:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bewize.livejournal.com
I loved this and I can relate. Beautiful piece.

Date: 2010-11-12 06:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] insomniatrix.livejournal.com
Wonderful, Crystal!

Date: 2010-11-12 06:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rachel-w-wings.livejournal.com
Beautiful ♥

Date: 2010-11-12 08:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] myrna-bird.livejournal.com
This prompted a memory of MY grandfather. Thanks!

Date: 2010-11-12 09:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] basric.livejournal.com
those of us who cook and once cooked and ate with family can relate. A wonderful story.

Date: 2010-11-13 02:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elorie.livejournal.com
This, my friend, is what you need: http://www.amazon.com/Southern-Cooks-Handbook-Step-Step/dp/1893062295

Not just recipes, but techniques.

Date: 2010-11-13 03:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] the-vernacular.livejournal.com
I am starting to get to the point where I can recreate the recipes I love from my family, but I sort of cheated and made sure I was the best at things none of them cook, so I have my own special things I don't have to compare.

Date: 2010-11-13 07:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] liret.livejournal.com
I had this trouble trying to learn to cook like my great-grandmother did. I got her to write some things down for me, but her idea of a recipe was to tell me to add 'enough' salt or cook it 'until it's done.'

Date: 2010-11-14 12:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] isis-lives.livejournal.com
Loved this entry. Thank you!

Date: 2010-11-14 04:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/_rabidwombat_/
Excellent! Sentimental and about one of my favorite topics: cooking. I can totally relate.

Date: 2010-11-14 08:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dreamchaser.livejournal.com
I loved this - it reminds me of trying to cook like my grandmother.

Date: 2010-11-14 09:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] millysdaughter.livejournal.com
This one makes me smile.

Date: 2010-11-14 09:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] majesticarky.livejournal.com
Good work!

Date: 2010-11-15 12:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] beeker121.livejournal.com
I have a book of my grandmother's recipes, and they're still not easy to follow - lots of things are a pinch or until it looks right. Good on you for trying to recreate what you have.

Lovely entry.

Date: 2010-11-15 08:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fortitudehigh.livejournal.com
So very true. It makes me sad that, no matter how well I may replicate dishes, it will never be like reliving meals with people who have gone.

Date: 2010-11-15 12:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lilycobalt.livejournal.com
Great entry!

Date: 2010-11-15 03:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wyliekat.livejournal.com
Very well done - it brings up a melancholia for meals past, while still combining it with a passion for food today. It also made me very hungry. ;-}

Date: 2010-11-15 03:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ellistrae.livejournal.com
Wow, I loved this. It actually made me cry, I suddenly missed my grandmother and grandfather terribly. I remember so many summers at my grandmother's house, eating steak that my granddad grilled along with sweet silver queen corn slathered with butter. No steak has ever tasted quite so good, or the corn so sweet. Great job.

Date: 2010-11-15 05:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lawchicky.livejournal.com
Oh this is so true!! I'm lucky that my grandmother is still around to teach me some of her gems. It's funny that sometimes the LITTLE recipes are ones that I love the most.

Date: 2010-11-16 01:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] java-fiend.livejournal.com
Beautifully written. The line about how it doesn't taste the same because you're not eating it at the dining table really struck a chord with me. Nicely, nicely done.

Date: 2010-11-16 03:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fourzoas-reads.livejournal.com
It's definitely difficult to recreate the true flavors of home! Nice job!

Date: 2010-11-16 01:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kehlen-crow.livejournal.com
Of course they aren't. They are proud of you for trying.
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