Happy December! It’s a great time of year to post about food and food memory. However, it is hard to even begin a post about food memories when you’re 44 years old.
I try to think back to see if I can come up with my earliest food memory. I can oddly remember a church preschool lunchroom and cornbread. It was sweet and cake-y, not at all like what we had at home, but I loved it. There were also grilled cheese sandwiches that were of course on white bread, and good and greasy and american cheesey. Whenever I have cafeteria-style cornbread or grilled cheese sandwiches, I can remember being in that preschool lunchroom.
I remember lunches lovingly packed by my sweet mother: tomato soup in a thermos, salad with French dressing, sandwiches with Land o’ Lakes lunch meat, and if I was lucky, a Little Debbie. I always ate cafeteria food on pizza day…those little rectangles of pizza with pepperoni chunks were the greatest hit of the lunch room. I think they were usually served with a side of french fries and maybe some canned corn. We had a strip of little paper tickets that the lunch lady tore off each day. In high school, my friends and I called it the “Mist Room” where you deposited your lunch tray. You had to hold your breath as you walked through the warm, humid, wet-food-smelly room where they washed the dishes. It was truly gag-worthy. My brilliant friends Michael and Russ categorized all high school lunchroom food into: 1. Chunks O’ Stuff or 2. Bun Substance. I still use those terms with my own kids!
Birthday food memories at my house mainly revolved around pie instead of cake. To this day, I am still more of a pie girl than a cake girl. We had homemade chocolate or butterscotch pie; I always chose the creamy butterscotch. I don’t know how or where that tradition started, but I’m not complaining. It was such a treat!
Beach vacations always had dinners out (fried shrimp!) but we also cooked at the house. Always boiled shrimp, baked potatoes, salad, and garlic bread. Divine! Later, it became Frogmore Stew, aka low country boil, since we lived in South Carolina. That also became our go-to dinner for parties. I adored it. Now, sadly, shrimp makes me itchy. No idea where that came from. Last night, I dreamed about eating the most delicious shrimp ever. I miss it terribly.
Tailgates were loaded with food memories. Growing up going to UGA games in Athens, we feasted on Popeye’s spicy fried chicken, mom’s “rancho beans” (baked beans with ground beef), ham biscuits with the mustard/butter spread and swiss cheese, and pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting. My mother would work her tail off and transport all of those dishes from South Carolina to Georgia for our picnic. Once I was in college there, she would still bring it all for my friends and honey, they would all show up! The beans and ham biscuits would still be warm! She seemed to love doing it and I was always so proud to show off her good cooking.
My grandmothers were also amazing cooks. So were my great aunts. Two of them became caterers, and they made my wedding cake and my groom’s cake. That generation of women in my family introduced us all to good food. Our family reunions were to die for. We should’ve sold tickets! Fried chicken and fried okra, macaroni and cheese, green beans flavored with pork, squash casseroles, congealed salads, homemade rolls, chocolate pound cake, coffee punch…I could go on and on but suffice it to say, they went all out and we loved them for doing so.
I truly believe the good attendance had a lot to do with the quality of the food offerings; the company was good, too, but the good food put everyone in a good mood and made us all a little more fun to be around. The booze did too, I’m sure, but I was too young to notice. One year, a mangy stray dog on its last leg wandered onto the farm and my Aunt Lou went to the closet and grabbed a shotgun and asked my date (surprisingly now my husband) if he would go put it out of its misery. He was fortunately saved by a cousin who hunts…but hey, that’s one way to introduce your family to your new boyfriend and seal the deal! If he sticks around after that, you know he’s a keeper. And I have a feeling that good food helped motivate him to come back around, too.
I’m looking forward to highlighting some other family members’ food memories in posts to come. I’m interested in seeing how food has changed over the generations and how it has stayed the same. I’m interested in seeing how our relationship to food has changed and stayed the same. And I’m interested in seeing things I wasn’t even looking for. Thanks so much for joining me on this little journey.
Take care of yourselves and each other,