Down south, it just goes without saying that food is love. Food is at the core of everything we do no matter what the occasion-- whether funeral or wedding-- the best, most mouth-watering food in the world, (in my humble opinion) is a staple of life here. It is simply part of the age old tapestry of the Deep South; good cooking handed down from one generation to the next.
But in my family something happened along the way--it skipped a generation. My poor, poor mother.
Our tapestry of good cooking kinda fell apart when it reached her tiny hands--and passed virtually nothing--well, nothing really delicious-- on to me. And certainly NONE of my mother's "recipes" were created by ANYONE in my family. They were her very own authentic "inventions."
Mother had about three staple meals. She could make a mean Frito Pie--basically chili with shredded cheese and Fritos thrown on top--if we were lucky she remembered to throw it in the oven and melt the cheese. Her other big hit was Tuna Casserole. This can be made in about 10 seconds flat. Steam some rice, mix in a can of cream of mushroom soup, then throw in a can of tuna and smash up some plain ol potato chips and stir the mush. If we were having company, she'd throw extra chips on top and stick it in the oven for a few minutes. I can't even remember what the third specialty was, but I'm certain it included some sort of snack chip. She must have developed our menus from the Frito Lay cookbook.
|My Grandma Albright and Nanny Bruce|
Both of my spectacular grandmothers were amazing cooks. My country grandma, Grandma Albright, was unreal. Her Sunday suppers were a thing of legend. Everything you could imagine a southern feast to be-- Fried chicken, ham, (yes, both) fried potatoes with onions, green beans, cornbread, creamed corn. All of it had a layer of fat on top as the Crisco she used would rise to the top when the dish cooled. She would spend the whole day on Saturday cooking for us to drop by and eat on Sundays after church. It was a way of life that I cherished.
My Nanny, ( inspiration for Meridee in my SASSY BELLE series and my mother's mother) cooked breakfasts that would make you salivate the second you opened your eyes, and those savory scrumptious aromas from her kitchen drifted up the hall and tickled your nose. She loved making a huge breakfast for all of us when we all spent the night, which was often. She loved a house full of people and she would INSIST we all sit and have the feast together-- bacon and cheesy eggs, grits, toast, hash browns, biscuits and butter...and her suppers were just as wonderful, filled with lots of gravy-covered succulent delights. Thank heavens I have both of their recipe books and to this day, I talk to them in my heart when I make those delectable concoctions. Of course, my food never quite tastes as delicious as theirs did.
Somehow, my sweet mother missed the cooking memo. She was out chasing and saving wildlife. The only pies she loved to make were the mud kind.
I can vividly remember Nanny saying, "Now Beth, get in here and let me show you how to cook--your mama never learned a damn thing that had to do with a stove." No, my mother was different. Unless you count how she kept a rescued baby opossum warm in the gas stove in a shoe box when it lost it's mother. The stove was off but warm with the pilot light so the rodent lived and was released back into the wild by my mother.
|Me and my precious mother|
Later my mother developed a love and enormous talent for sewing--(more on that in a later blog.)
In my mother's defense, she was a young widow with two babies and she always had to work several jobs but truth be told, even after she married my step-dad when I was sixteen and she had plenty of time, the trend was already set, mother just had no interest in cooking-- not if it took more than 10 minutes and a microwave--no make that five minutes. How in the world was a southern SASSY BELLE in the making to be great in the kitchen with a mother who thought it was a big night if we were in the KFC drive-through? This was my mother's favorite meal...seriously, she and the colonel were having an affair--most of my childhood. This totally explains the gorgeous figure I have always possessed....ahem.
After I got married, I inherited those precious hand-me down recipes from my dear grandmothers. Soon after my wedding, my Aunt Patsy gave me a book that is now so totally messy, sauce stained and dog-eared--it has been used--and loved to death--Cotton Country Cooking-- and with that began my own real adventures in the kitchen. I began to teach myself-- but I have to be honest and admit--a cookbook alone does not make a great cook--and may I say, unfortunately the apple doesn't fall far from the tree--my mother's non-cooking gene is in me somewhere and I wrestle with it daily...burning things, mostly me, and skipping key steps in a recipe trying to "hurry things along".
|My most cherished cookbook|
Today things are better--I taught myself--studied that book my aunt gave me and vowed my whole life I would learn to feed my family something other than Fritos or potato chips over canned whatever. I am pretty good these days though I still have bandages on my fingers occasionally.
Thank heavens I still have my mother, though we are so far apart with me in San Francisco and her in Alabama. "That's what the phone is for," she says. And we often talk several times a day, every single day--ironically reading recipes to each other. One can dream. :) 'Cause we sure as hell can't cook!
These days when I am needing my mother's hugs--which is every single day--I have been known to grab the can of tuna and throw those potato chips over some rice and cream of mushroom soup and feel my mother's arms around me. I smile and feel safe. Food is love. And my mother was loving us the best she could. The faster supper was ready, the quicker she could get my pageant dresses sewn, or the laundry done or our prayers said with us, every single night.
Come to think of it--Tuna Casserole is one of my very favorite meals!