As I wind down my Food Memory Series, as well as 2015, I decide to end with my mama.
Mothers make most of our food memories and as such, deserve some accolades, even if it is just as the finale of this series. 🙂 My mom, Gale Dunaway Kinney, has provided her family with too many food memories to count. She knows how to throw a good dinner party, and she cooks for it herself, too! She provided me with a cooking foundation that was one part tradition, one part nutritious ingredients, one part coupon/sale-centric, and one part progressive. She is a baby boomer and loves the old tried-and-true recipes, but is never afraid to try something new. I am the same way.
The holidays were always her Super Bowl. She seemed to love cooking and baking, and I swear I could taste her joy in her pecan tea tassies, cherry chews, and sausage cheese balls. She bakes angel biscuits for friends and neighbors, and always made a goodie tray for my dad’s office. She can fry chicken. She can make a grandchild drool with her cheese wafers. As a mother, I can only hope to reach her culinary greatness and her ability to create lasting food memories.
She’s not only a great cook. She’s actually a great writer, too; she honed her skills during her many years as an elementary school media specialist and all-around lover of books. She kindly agreed to write a guest blog on her own food memories, and it’s a story I never even knew. Thanks so much for sharing, Mom, and for being you.
by Gale Kinney
I grew up in the Southern Methodist tradition of Sunday dinner after church. If you’ve ever heard Lyle Lovett sing “Church”, you have an idea of the spiritual nature of that midday Sunday meal:
“To the Lord let praises be;
It’s time for dinner now let’s go eat.
We’ve got some beans and some good cornbread;
Now listen to what the preacher said.”
I was the world’s pickiest eater as a kid, but there was a meal that I looked forward to, and that was Sunday roast beef and mashed potatoes. When we came in from church, that eye of round Mama had left roasting in the oven would be getting crispy on the outside. The rich aroma from the caramelizing process promised brown gravy to pour over buttery, creamy potatoes. That regular Sunday dinner made us all hope the preacher wouldn’t preach too long.
Come Monday, though, my mainstay was a peanut butter (no jelly) sandwich on white bread. My mother made me one every day for 12 years and packed it in a brown paper sack for school. The only vegetable I ate was corn. The only fruit I ate was an occasional apple. No food mixed up in a casserole or covered in a sauce.
I’ve been reading up on the psychology of folks with “selective palates.” Apparently, this behavior can be explained as: a. evolutionary, b. biological, or c. environmental. Here’s my case study:
I did have overactive taste buds and a high gag reflex. My worst school day in first grade? That day my teacher insisted I taste the nasty big white Navy beans in the school cafeteria and wash them down with a sip of room temperature milk….
My father was a meat and potatoes guy. He also ate peanut butter crackers after every meal.
My mother indulged both of her picky eaters and prepared food the way we liked it. How frustrating for a woman who loved to cook!
So I guess it was destined for me to grow up as a non-foodie.
And then I fell in love with a boy. Opposites attracted in this case. I ate to live; he lived to eat. There was literally a world of food out there that I had never given a chance. Food from Italy, China, Mexico, Africa. For that matter, I’d never even eaten a good old American hot dog! And so, falling in love with Phil opened the door to falling in love with food.
It started with pizza. I hated tomatoes and anything made with them-ketchup, spaghetti, a tomato sandwich- all were on the yucky list. It’s hard to believe, but in 1966, pizza was very exotic in small town Georgia. Our school cafeteria made their version of pizza every Friday: yeast rolls that rose to a height of about four inches, topped with tomato sauce and a bit of cheese and ground beef. This was served with a side of turnip greens for some strange reason. Needless to say, I stuck with the peanut butter sandwich.
But Phil knew a great pizza place in a nearby town, and so at the age of 17, he took me for my first real pizza experience in Rome. This is true-I ate my first pizza in Rome. Don’t get excited. It was Rome, Georgia! We went to the Pizza King, and I fell in love all over again, but this time it was ground beef pizza. I couldn’t believe what I’d been missing. Those delicious little meatballs and the way the hot cheese would burn the roof of your mouth! The mozzarella would string from the slice of pizza to my mouth and remind me of the scene in the Disney movie of Lady and the Tramp sharing their spaghetti.
After that, I dabbled in trying food that had been standard southern fare at my house for years. Pork chops! I had never tasted pork chops, because I didn’t like the sound of the name. Lima beans smelled funny, but they tasted so earthy and buttery! Finally, something green was on the approved list. Still, nothing could be mixed up in a casserole or touching on the plate.
The first time I went to eat with Phil’s family, his mother, who was another great Southern cook, planned her specialty- Chicken Chow Mein. When I found out that Phil had told her not to cook it because I would hate it, I was totally embarrassed. I insisted that she make her favorite food, with the one caveat. Don’t tell me what’s in it. We turned the lights down, and I ate every bite. Little did I know it contained bean sprouts and mushrooms. But what lovely texture with the crunchy noodles, the crisp sprouts and celery! Now I could add China to my world tour of eating.
After that, it was a matter of time before I was eating chili, squash casserole, Shrimp Creole, Reuben sandwiches with sauerkraut and Thousand Island Dressing, even fried okra. When we got married I had to learn to cook all the foods Phil loved, so of course, I learned to love most of them myself. Be careful what you wish for! Nothing good comes without a price. Extra pounds, trips to the gym, and high cholesterol. But the joy of cooking and eating has become an important way we bond in our family, so it’s worth the trade off.
Food memory is associated with happy times gathered with family around the table. Breaking bread takes on a spiritual aspect when it’s experienced with those we love. When my mother gave up her home and was giving away her best loved possessions to her children and grandchildren, my first request was for a sampler stitched by her mother that had hung in the dining room for many years. It is bordered with richly colored embroidered fruits and vegetables, surrounding this quote from Proverbs: “Better a dinner of herbs where love is than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.” This sums up the place food holds for our family.
The sampler now has a place of honor in our dining room. On Thanksgiving Day, as we gather there, we won’t be having the stalled ox, but Phil will be outside frying a turkey. Everyone will be in the kitchen chopping, mixing, tasting as we prepare dressing, squash, beans, and pumpkin pie. The rituals of preparing our favorite foods, giving thanks and feasting together are family tradition. And, of course the topic of conversation will be “What’s for supper?”
Here’s wishing all of you, my fabulous blog readers, a 2016 filled with happy and lasting food memories!
Be well. Take care of yourselves and each other,
Yellow Daisy Chick