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Food and Memories

Posted by on August 22, 2012

“What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?”

~Lin Yutang

Food evokes memories for me.  The taste of a fresh fig, unadorned, warm from the sun or even from being in the trunk of my car enroute home from the store will instantly transport me back in time to my grandmother’s backyard.  Granny had a huge fig tree and allowed us to harvest our own fruit during the season.  We’d duck under the low limbs, dodge the wasps and other flying, stinging insects that loved the figs as much as us and pluck a handful of succulent, heavy lobes in the time it took me to write these few sentences.  We’d retreat to the house, where at least one fig would be popped into our mouths as we watched Granny wash, slice and sprinkle the fruit with sugar.  A delicious afternoon treat, for sure.

My father’s mother, Granny figured prominently into my culinary upbringing, mostly because she moved in with us when I was in junior high school.  She’d make cakes, pies, cobblers and cookies, at least one dessert a week.  Her Career Girl Cobbler, a dump cobbler that originated in the 1930’s, is a family favorite.  One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t get her to write down her Tea Cake recipe before she passed.  Her Tea Cakes are very much like those crack cookies mass produced by Lofthouse Cookies, only without the icing.  Less thin, crispy sugar cookie and more dense, cake-like cookie.  Granny is also the one who would tell me that “you catch a man with face powder, but you keep him with baking powder”.  Wise words, says my husband.

My Grandma, my mother’s mom, was also a dynamo in the kitchen.  A fresh, warm flour tortilla, slathered with butter always brings her to mind.  My memories of her are almost always of being in the kitchen, an apron tied around her housedress.  Grandma died when I was ten years old, but her vibrantly colored Mexican pottery bean pot sits on my fireplace mantle, giving me silent encouragement to pursue the perfect bowl of frijoles.  The pot was made before we worried about lead in paint, and while it no longer has kitchen use, it is too sentimentally beautiful to pack away.  My Grandpa carried on in her stead, growing my love of delicious food when he’d buy barbacoa on Sundays after mass.  We’d eat the rich, shredded meat in corn tortillas, with a little salt and pepper.  Basic, but oh so very luxurious in taste.

Growing up, my mother ensured that a fresh batch of tortillas was made every weekend.  I’d use tortillas in place of bread for sandwiches.  My sister and I would put a slice of cheese on one tortilla and push it under the broiler to melt.  Little did we know we were making open-face quesadillas, before the dish became popular.  We’d spread them with butter and jelly for a sweet treat, too.  Mom had her famous chicken & dumplings recipe, using raw tortilla dough cut into strips for the dumplings.  I make mine the same way now, a food tradition being passed down in the family.  The tortilla strips that you put in first melt down, thickening the broth.  Heavenly!

Oysters evoke vivid memories of the Texas coast and time spent with family in Rockport.  My father would go out fishing with other family members, and come back with an assortment of fish, and oysters fresh from their beds.  I was three years old when I had my first raw oyster, and I credit it with sparking my love for great food.  I wasn’t told how to eat it; or if I was, I don’t recall.  In fact, I don’t remember any exact words, only that I stood and watched the oysters being shucked and someone, possibly my father, offered me an oyster on the half shell.  I tipped it into my mouth and chewed, delight spreading through me at the taste of sea and something almost earthy, but not.  I’ve been hooked ever since.

I hope that I’m making food memories with my son, as I exult in his love of sweet raw carrots and the comforting, buttery bite of a grilled cheese sandwich.  He’s not adventurous in his eating, eschewing every other vegetable except carrots, and preferring macaroni and cheese or vegetarian chicken nuggets over homemade fettucine alfredo and crawfish étouffée.  I’m giving him time, though.  One day he may look at me over a forkful of enchiladas and tell me how much he loved eating them at home when he was a kid.

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