Growing up, I never realized how important food was to my family life. Almost every great childhood memory and experience involves food in some way or another. Whether we were getting ice cream after winning the big game; having a barbeque when it was too hot to cook in the house; eating a four-course meal at Grandma’s on a Sunday afternoon; or all crowded around the table for the holidays, looking back food was the common denominator of it all. In our family when we were getting together there wasn’t any discussion of whether we would be eating or not, but rather what, when, and where.
Both of my grandmothers loved to cook, and that worked out perfect since we all loved to eat. One of their proudest moments was when my brother polished off two steaks at dinner during one of his growth spurts. They brought to the table everything from meatballs to fish and cinnamon rolls to strawberry pie, nothing was off limits and it was somehow all delicious. They could have cooked for a hundred and apparently thought that they were most of the time. No one ever left hungry, and no one complained about the leftovers.
Like most kids going off to college, one of the things I missed the most as a freshman was the home cooking. The tour of campus was alluring with the huge buffet of food in the dorm cafeteria, complete with every breakfast cereal you could think of, and you could top it with chocolate milk if you wanted, no one was there to tell you no. This was only surpassed by the novelty of ordering pizza up to your room at midnight during a study session. As the money dwindled, the tacos got cold, and even the ice cream machine couldn’t hold a candle to Mom’s meals.
Any chance to get back home was filled with our favorite dishes and the promise of goodies to take back. This, however, posed a whole new challenge, especially for the guys. Suddenly, bringing back cookies and brownies was like smuggling drugs across the border. Any inkling from the roommates that you were carrying contraband and you could guarantee those cookies would be gone before the night was over. We had to get creative with storing and rationing to make them last as long as possible.
Conditioning our bodies to function off of microwave noodles, toaster pastries, and animal crackers, we managed to survived college. Moving on to the next phase of life, I was preparing for marriage and registering for all of the kitchen gadgets I could ever need. I liked the thought of being a good domestic wife, and looked forward to the prospect of meeting my husband at the door ever night, dinner ready on the table. Fast forward 5 years, 3 moves, and 3 jobs later, most of the wedding gifts were still in their original packaging, and sitting down to dinner was next to impossible considering we didn’t even own a dining room table.
Our most recent move to the East coast has taken us 1,200 miles away from the closest family. Disappointed that I had not honed my cooking skills over the last several years of marriage and not having any of our favorite restaurants in the area, left me hungry and missing the Midwest. I was at the point where I felt like we were eating, but not truly being fed. Taking matters into my own hands, I began searching through old cookbooks from my mom and grandmothers.
Thinking I would just try some of the easier recipes, I have been surprised to find that this has taken me on a wonderful journey. My grandmother’s favorite cookbooks can almost be read like a journal; sections paper-clipped, notes in the margins, “good” written above a title, a ½ of a cup of something added, and newspaper articles slipped in for bookmarks. To their generation, recipes were almost a status symbol, maybe the first ladies social networking. We forget how easy it is now to simply go online, search for a chocolate chip cookie recipe and instantly get 50,000 hits. Back in the day, you had your recipes handed down from your family or you swapped with the other wives. What a joy and excitement it must have been seeing those first few cookbooks; and even greater still when small town churches started compiling their own for fundraisers, and you could have a copy with your name and very own culinary masterpiece in print.
My soul has been stirred after going through the books, notes, and recipes. When my kids go off to college, I hope they find themselves dreaming about the next break when they can come home to their favorite meals. I want to ask my husband what he wants for dinner and have him choose my enchiladas over going out to eat. I love that my mom makes the best manicotti, acini de pepe salad, and deviled eggs of any I’ve ever tasted. I want to uphold that legacy and make the women of my family proud. I know it might sound like I’m from another era, but I hope as a family we bow our heads as we sit down at the table for a meal more than we hit the drive thru and play place. The adventure has begun, and so far it’s been great! Dinner for tonight: a German classic, cabbage burgers; I can almost see my grandmas smiling now. Here’s to tradition, learning along the way, and satisfying my hunger.
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