“I opened my recipe files and was suddenly surrounded by all the dead women whose recipes I was using,” writes memoirist Marion Roach Smith. That was a scene from cooking in her kitchen.
Then she turns to you and me: “How many dead and gone women were in the kitchen with you recently?”
Marion’s jolting, inelegant words remind me that my recipe files are packed with family-favorites from my grandma, my mom and her sisters, my mom’s cousin, my mother-in-law, and even a few men (and—ahem—most of them are still alive).
Those recipes—so much more than 5” x 3” cards!—represent people intricately connected to me, folks who showed me how to live and love, dear ones whose lives nurtured mine. In turn, their lives have impacted my children and grandchildren.
My grandma’s recipes, some in her handwriting, generate dozens of memories. I picture myself at my grandparents’ kitchen table eating dinner—roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, and Grandma’s creamed peas. She grew them in her garden out back behind the garage.
And—oh! I have memories of that garden! Grandma took me there one afternoon—I might have been four or five years old—and introduced me to sweet tender new baby peas right out of the pod.
Recently I took my granddaughter to our garden and taught her to pop open a pea pod and eat those sweet little morsels right out of the pod. I told her the story of my grandmother doing the same with me, and I wondered aloud if she’d remember, as I’ve remembered all these years.
Grandma and I sat at her kitchen table, snapped open heaps of pods, and popped the peas into a saucepan, ready to cook for dinner after Grandpa arrived home from work.
And perhaps for dessert we’d enjoy Grandma’s fudge pudding cake.
Memories: Countless dinners around my grandparents’ table, happy conversations, doing dishes with Grandma afterward, and always her merry but oh-so-soft laughter.
I think of the gentle, devoted wife she was to my grandpa, the faithful, hard working mother she was to my mom and her sisters, and the loving grandmother and great-grandmother she was to us.
Shy and humble, she was the heart of the family.
Looking back now, I see how like God she was: Never self-seeking, always living for others, slow to anger, compassionate, full of grace and mercy.
My grandkids and their kids need to know about Grandma Mac.
I want them to know the blessings they’ve received because of my grandma.
I want them to know Grandma Mac’s DNA lives in their cells, that some of their likes and passions and longings—even their laughter—could be just like hers. I want them to know they can choose to live the way she did.
Marion Roach Smith asked how many dead and gone women are in the kitchen with us when we cook. My grandma passed away 25 years ago but, because of her love-infused involvement in our lives, she lives on in those of us who knew and loved her—and still miss her terribly.
Yes, when I use Grandma Mac’s recipes, she is with me in my kitchen. Her recipes remind me of her goodness, of the way she lived and loved. I hear her soft, gentle laughter, I see her smiling face—the most beautiful in the world. Her recipes can help me write stories for my grandkids and future generations.
What about you? Dig for your own treasures from old family recipes. Gather memories of people who shared them with you and then write your stories because:
We all come from the past,
and children ought to know what it was
that went into their making,
to know that life is
a braided cord of humanity
stretching up from time long gone,
and that it cannot be defined
by the span of a single journey
from diaper to shroud.
Russell Baker, Growing Up