Thursday I had lunch with some men I used to work with. It was a nice lunch despite the fact that we had gathered to bid Mark farewell as he enters the next chapter of his life. We talked about old times and the people we knew (Are your ears burning, Scott Carter or Laurie Walters?), but you’d never believe our most popular topics of conversation: recipes, cookbooks, and the food our grandmothers and mothers used to prepare.
I’m not sure why the conversation kept coming back to food and families, but I have a hunch that the approaching holiday season might have something to do with it. Whether gatherings with kith and kin are pleasant or merely endured, there’s still a bit of nostalgia associated with them. Will Aunt Lisa bring macaroni and cheese? And can we count on Cuz Katherine for the brown rice? Will there be reminiscing about days of yore? You can bet on it.
Mark and Jim chatted about cookbooks and recipe pages that became so spattered with the cooks’ ingredients that they eventually had to be protected with plastic in order to preserve them. Mark spoke of a 1 2 3 4 cake because of the numbers and/or amounts of ingredients (1 cup, 2 teaspoons, etc.). Unfortunately, he couldn’t recall the recipes precisely but agreed to ask his mother. The men waxed poetic in their descriptions of 16-Layer Cake and coconut candy.
And me? I mostly listened and thought of my own favorite holiday foods and the cooks, past and present, who prepared them. I also thought of how bonding the experience of sharing food, the very sustenance of life, can be. And naturally I thought of our local writing group’s anthology, Serving Up Memory. Little did Mark and Jim know that they were reinforcing the group’s shared feelings that a recipe is so much more than a list of instructions on a page.
Here’s an excerpt from “Hats and Cornbread” that I wrote about my mother’s fudge. My mother was an excellent cook. As a child, every single Christmas I’d sneak into the kitchen, quietly remove the top of the fudge tin, nab a piece of creamy fudge with pecans, move the other pieces around so that she’d never notice the missing piece, replace the lid, and run out the back door before anyone knew what I was up to. Out of eyesight, I’d pop that heavenly confection in my mouth and savor its delicious sweetness before nonchalantly waltzing back in.
When I submitted “Hats and Cornbread” for critiquing by the group, I expected to hear several recommendations for change. Pen in hand, I was primed to take notes on whatever the members had to say. Surprisingly, there were very few suggestions. The consensus was that the story, though personal, had universal application.
Now that the anthology is officially “done,” I can state without exception that every piece in the collection meets that same criteria. All will resonate with readers’ hearts and psyches. So glad we slogged through (an oft-repeated phrase throughout the process) and completed this book.