Culinary Relationships: Part 1 of Many
Memories are inextricably tied to anything I make or eat. The food I eat and prepare, in essence, is a microcosm of memories that evokes a sense of emotion, as I believe every meal should.
I learned how to make corn bread at a very young age. My grandfather would make the best cornbread on earth, while I stirred the mix around (see below picture).
My grandma made the most perfect wine cake with the most delectable frosting of my dreams. She used to tell me that I needed to learn how to cook, because I might marry someone that didn’t know how, and one day it would come in handy. She was right. Soon, my grandfather passed on, my grandma grew less inclined culinarily, and my mother and father separated when I was 16, but their relationship began to crumble long before that. I remember going grocery shopping alone when I was 15 and buying canned goods to make my brothers and sisters food because my mother and father weren’t home. My mother was on food stamps at that point, so canned goods and boxed foods were our culinary limit. I’d always grab canned corn beef and canned pink salmon. My grandmother lived in Hawaii during World War II, so she could teach everyone a thing or two about cooking with canned goods. On any given night I’d make canned corned beef with onion (canned corned beef + one onion) or corned beef and gravy (canned corn beef + tomato paste and water + chopped potatoes) or salmon and gravy (canned salmon + tomato paste and water + onion). On occasion, we would have canned sardines and rice or Pork & Beans with hot dogs mixed in. All meals able to be created in mass amounts and guaranteed to be filling. The myriad of meals I could prepare with a can of spam or viennasausage by the time I was 18 were endless, but so were the memories associated with those dishes. My uncle used to visit us and refused to eat what he considered “poor people food”. I’ve always held that against him because I made those things like my grandma showed me, and we made what we had and we had what we made. I remained proud of my so called “poor people food” because we were a family and we loved it. It was my job as the oldest to prepare meals in lieu of my mother, and despite our parental predicament, we would all long for dinner time when those dishes were served. We didn’t see poor or rich people food, we just saw food. The best cheese I had ever eaten up to that point was Government Cheese (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_cheese) that my mother used to pick up from the welfare program. I’d canvas the wrapper for the ingredients (see: don’t) and couple it with saltines or Ritz crackers for a timely culinary delight. I’ve been making Hamburger Helper Beef Stroganoff since i was barely a teen and still read the recipe on the back of the box like I just learned yesterday. In some instances, I can’t help but hear my mom’s voice in the back of my head yelling “Is it done yet? Do you think you can do it by yourself while mom goes out?”
I rarely make any of the aforementioned dishes anymore, not because of their taste, but because of the emotional vulnerability they evoke within me. Food for me, is a memory that contains the emotion of a particular time. I’ve always related my memories of food to the emotion of a particular time and place, and every relationship I’ve had, in essence, can be broken down into a culinary one: what we make, where we dine, and what we take away.
Hope to see you for part 2?…. Happy cooking.