Following that thought on food as communion.....

Daddy with a rattlesnake he killed on the golf course, using a 9 iron.
Our family is getting ready to celebrate Daddy's 90th birthday, in just a couple more weeks. We've ordered a big sheet cake, all the food you would expect at an old fashioned pot luck. Plans are being made for kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, siblings, old friends, young friends to fly in, fly down, drive up, drive over. Swanky mom-and-pop motels costing around $56 a night are being reserved, not that there's any chance of them being filled where we're going. (Yes, they have free continental breakfast, and no, they don't have a pool.)

One of the presents I have planned for Daddy is a T-shirt that says "it took me 90 years to look this good." Which is completely true - he looks sooooo great for his age! The other is a typed-up version of a journal he filled out for me 12 years ago, when he was a mere 78. I got the idea from those 'gift-in-a-jar' books, typed up a long list of questions for him, pasted them in a book and had him write his answers.

Here's one of his questions and answers that hits on my post earlier this week:

What was your favorite dish that your mother made when you were a child?
We only had this about one time a year, which was Christmas, but by far it was chicken and cornbread dressing. She would take an old hen that was about too old to lay eggs anymore and boil it for several hours, then stuff it with a dressing made from cornbread and several other things and bake it in a bread pan until it was brown. She would use the liquid it was boiled in to mix with the cornbread. If we could have had that every Sunday instead of every Christmas we would have thought we were rich.

My Grandma Fanny (Frances Lavader) kept track of her laying hens, who was falling down on production. She knew which one was next in line to have its neck wrung. She did that without flinching, plucked those feathers off, threw it into a cook pot on a wood-burning stove. She made her cornbread, likely most every day, and took that and broke it up, threw things together and came up with Chicken and Cornbread Dressing. 

A chicken certainly couldn't be sacrificed daily, but once a year she did just that, sacrificed that chicken, and cooked this special dish for her family. Then they sat at a table, likely built by my grandfather, and had Christmas dinner together. My Daddy said his mother cooked three meals, every single day, to keep her family fed. Once a year they had a meal with food as communion. 

That recipe, in my father's squiggly hand-writing, blue ink on white lined paper, is a treasure to me. A sharing of his boyhood memories, something I can pass down through the ages, in our family, for years to come.  

Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food) says one way to know if food is 'real' is to ask if it's something your grandmother would recognize. He gives Go-gurt as an example of not so much. Grandma Fanny   grew her own, including the parts with blinking eyes, and came up with this dish without going to a grocery store, or rolling down her car window and handing over a debit card. 

If you asked my kids their favorite dish, at least two would say 'Enchilada Style Chili Burros' and one might say Taco Salad or meatloaf. I wouldn't have to kill anything to recreate it for them, but I'm happy to say none of them would answer Hamburger Helper, which I mostly cooked when I was between the ages of 19 and 30 and learning to keep kids full on a budget stretched thin. 

The dishes my own mother made for us, the ones I'd love to pull up to her kitchen table and eat once more are chicken and dumplings, cornbread, potato soup, and coconut cake baked once a year, every June, just for me. Even the tuna casserole my mother fed us was made from scratch, not from a box like it is today.

So what's your favorite meal from childhood? What do you remember? Can you go back as far as your grandmother and remember the meal that said, "I love you, I'm glad you're here with me."? Was it real, honest to goodness food? And what would your own kids answer if you asked them? 
Food for thought,



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