This is where we celebrate the memories people send in to The Cooking Gene. I hope you will contribute to this electronic archive:
Grant Hayter-Menzies writes:
It’s been over ten years since my Southern grandmother died, and many more since I last sat down to a meal at my great-grandmother’s table. But when I recently cooked up a pot of black eyed peas, to Michael Twitty’s heirloom recipe, both came alive again in the aromas of this dish I remember from childhood. With them came a series of black women, slaves of their ancestors. These women are unknown to me by name but powerfully present in bedtimes tales my grandmother told me, spine-chilling parables like the one about a woman gone wild after the death of her only child, wailing in the forest, always hungry for the children of others—stories she’d heard as a girl, which seemed to have African folk roots and perhaps did, because they were like the stories told by black women to white children before the Civil War. These black women most come back to life in the dishes that they taught my ancestors to appreciate and create past the era when white and black lived in such close proximity. I always think of these long-ago women with thanks for the unpaid labors they performed for my ancestors, and also for the soul food they bequeathed to my grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s kitchens, singing the fragrance of black eyed peas, ham and blackstrap molasses through the house like a joyous hymn from long ago.
Food Is Love
Sharon Leslie Morgan
When I was growing up in Chicago, the kitchen of our Southside apartment was the center of my universe. Not only was food cooked there, it was a place of existential meaning. It was where corn was shucked, drinks were poured, peas were shelled, homework was done, tears were shed and laughter peeled. It was the source of Thanksgiving dinner, issuing forth its bounty in innumerable serving dishes, hot from the stove, onto the table in the dining room – the next room over.
The kitchen table could just as easily be used to hold and serve food as to host a card game. It provided a roof under which I and my cousins would play around the feet of ever present guests. On hot summer nights, it was the room we passed through to get to the back porch, where my grandfather, Paw Paw, would sleep on a cot under a navy blue velvet sky. On cold winter nights, it was a place entered through a heavy curtain that kept the cold air in the rest of the apartment out while we sat around the open oven door, rubbing our hands to keep warm. When we were sick, it was the location of my grandmother’s (Maw Maw) rocking chair, in which she rocked us well after rubbing us down with Vick’s vapo rub, eucalyptus oil or turpentine, depending on the ailment.
No one person taught me to cook and a veritable army of people have added to my repertoire over the years. Like a sponge, I sucked up lessons as a child from both of my parents, three grandparents, aunts, uncles and older cousins. My grandfather taught me how to fry red snapper a la Mississippian. My grandmother contributed chicken and dumplins, informed by her roots as a farm girl in Illinois. My other grandmother taught me the Italian spaghetti of her parent’s home country. My father taught me to make gravy. My mother taught me Louisiana creole gumbo, which she learned as a 15 year old bride in New Orleans. My aunt June taught me to make some mean barbecued pig feet. In more recent years, I have trekked all over the world, enjoying the comraderie of friends’ kitchens in the Caribbean, Africa and Europe. I learned to escovitch fish in Jamaica; create shark and bake sandwiches in Tobago; sacrifice, skin and cook every inch of a sheep in South Africa and prepare bitter leaf greens with bush meat in Cameroun.
There is no one recipe I can point to as definitive. My overall food concept is one of “pan-African cuisine,” believing from experience that all people of African descent eat pretty much the same things, cooked in very similar ways. No matter where we are in Africa or the Diaspora, we eat and enjoy corn bread, corn meal porridge (grits, pap and ugali), beans (of all colors), greens (of all kinds), chicken (fried or fricasseed), lots of fish and mountains of rice. Our love of spices, including hot peppers, is also universal.
The greatest thing I learned from absolutely everyone that contributed to my culinary education is that “food is love.” I therefore do not hesitate to pass it around! I once owned and cooked at a restaurant in Paris (Bojangles) that offered pan-African culinary delights, seasoned with live music. Amazingly, ten years after the fact, diehard fans still remember me and my food.
I can only surmise that people like me and Michael Twitty inherited “the cooking gene” — and I could not imagine life without it.
I thank you for sharing’ food is love ‘which brought fond memories from my past.My mother was born and raised in rural Alabama and lived with an older cousin in Mobile who was an excellent cook. She prepared great meals that we still remember and her dinner was ready before 11am on Sundays.We still use her recipes to this day.I just made a huge pot of Gumbo and also prepared baked jams and garlic bread suggested by a friend. I enjoy cooking because it reminds me of my southern parents although I grew up in Brooklyn and Queens NY.
Ken Collier: Key Lime Pie
Key Lime Pie
Notes: Generally my notes, if any, are at the end of my recipes. This time, though, I want to start with them because there is a lot of nonsense out and about concerning genuine Key Lime Pie. This is the recipe I learned from my mother, who grew up on Key West making these things. To begin with, no self-respecting Key Lime Pie will have anything whatever to do with chiffon, green food color, corn starch, or even whipped cream (not to mention that abomination called “whipped topping”). These are alterations that destroy the essential intensity, flavor, and integrity of a Key Lime Pie.
There is really no mystery to a Key Lime Pie. They are quite straightforward to make. While there are many variations on the theme, the essentials are lime juice, egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, and meringue. A fully authentic Key Lime Pie will be made with Key Limes, a variety of limes that seem to have appeared spontaneously in the Keys of South Florida, probably descended from limes that floated ashore after English ships were wrecked in storms. They are very small, very juicy, thin-skinned, and have a lot of seeds. They are also hard to come by. Grocery store (Persian) limes will work, but are a poor substitute. We have a Bearss lime (surprisingly enough, that spelling is correct) tree in our yard and it makes a very good substitute. I am told that Mexican limes work quite well, but I have never tried them. There is disagreement, though, even among those who know what they are doing. For example, my mother swore by a pastry crust. I prefer a Graham cracker crust, but I do not use any sugar and add ¼ teaspoon ground cloves. I find the hint of cloves, sets of the essential lime flavor quite nicely. Well, enough of the harangue. For the recipe, turn the page.
Graham Cracker Crust
Preheat the oven to 350. Graham crackers generally come in boxes of three containers. Crush one of these packages, and mix it with 6 Tablespoons of melted butter and ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves. Pat this mixture into a 9 inch pie pan. This crust need not be backed, though I generally do. If you choose not to bake it, chill it thoroughly before filling. If you choose to bake it, bake for about 10 minutes or until it is done.
3 egg yolks
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 cup lime juice
Beat the egg yolks until they are lemon colored and make a ribbon. Fold the condensed milk into the eggs. With a wire whisk, fold the lime juice into the milk and eggs a little at a time. The custard will thicken and smooth out. Pour the custard into the prepared crust.
3 egg whites
6 tablespoons of sugar
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
Beat the egg whites. When they start to become stiff, add the sugar and cream of tartar, one tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until the meringue becomes glossy and holds its peaks. Spread the meringue over the custard in a decorative pattern, e.g. pulling peaks off it with the back of a spoon.
Bake the pie at 350 for about 10 minutes or until the meringue begins to get flecked with gold. Remove from the oven; cool to room temperature; and refrigerate for 2 or 3 hours.
Your request brought back to mind Miss Kay, the woman who cooked for my grandparents, in Washington, DC, in the 50’s and 60’s (that’s when I knew her).
One of my favorite dishes was sweet potato casserole, and before I left home for college (my first living on my own experience), I asked Miss Kay for the recipe. And that’s when I really learned something about the art of cooking.
She told me that you just take some sweet potatoes – enough for however many’s coming plus leftovers – and boil them till they’re soft (who knows how long that might take, I thought). Then you mash them and add some butter and cream. How much butter and cream? Hmm, depends. From an egg to a fist. Cream – about that much. You add brown sugar till it tastes the way you like, and some spices, like cinnamon or mace or ground cloves, whatever’s to hand. Don’t forget raisins and walnuts, if you have them and they won’t play up with anyone’s teeth. Bake until it’s ready.
Brought up by a proper “Joy of Cooking” mother, I was at first perplexed by this recipe. Then delighted – an act of rebellion, I thought. Just cook it as it seemed right, no worries about “must.” Delicious!
Thanks for the visit to memories!