I started cooking by helping my grandmother, mother and aunties as a young girl. We all lived on the same property, but different housing. The “front,” or the “big house” as we called it, was where we would come together for everything until it was time to go to bed. I loved those days. They were not always happy or fun, but they are still good days to remember.
All of us, my sisters and cousins too, would get together in my grandmother’s kitchen all apron’d up. We started cooking everything from frying chicken, to cooking greens, string beans, and anything else you could think of. Oh, don’t let me forget baking pies and cakes too. Not to mention they all worked every day and very hard work too. Growing up with grandparents and a mother from the South (Louisiana) this was common for a typical day.
Now holidays, that was a whole ‘nother level. Turkey, ham, fried chicken, black eyed peas, yams, carrot salad, potato salad, dressing, dressing gravy, greens, green beans, mac and cheese, vegetable dishes, corn bread and hot water corn bread too. All kinds of cakes (5 or 6 different kinds) and pies (3 to 4 different kinds – and not just one of the different kinds, but 3 or 4 each of the different ones!)
Don’t forget the banana pudding and egg custard pies. These are what I learned best because they were my favorite and would become my own specialties.To this day I cannot tell you how my grandmother cooked all that food. But she did. Day after day, year after year, until she was in her very late 80’s. My grandmother knew the best ingredients to make her dishes with. She was known in the neighborhood as the “best cook in the world.”
On Sundays before church my grandmother would have the whole house smelling like the finest restaurant in town. From breakfast food such as, homemade buttermilk (made from (spoiled) sour milk) biscuits, to bacon (with the skin on it), and eggs. Homemade orange juice to top it all off. My grandfather’s favorite. My grandmother’s cooking is part of her cherished legacy, and we are the recipients that pass on her history in our own kitchens. Each one of us can cook something of our grandmother’s just as if she made it herself. When I’m in the kitchen I feel my grandmother’s and mother’s spirit and hear their words of how to make it, not to overcook it, or remember to taste your seasonings.
I have every one of her recipes written down on index cards from when I wrote them in the 70’s. It brings me joy to reflect on all those days of cooking, laughing and telling stories, listening to songs from down home blues to religious music. Sometimes my grandmother would sing her favorite hymns, oh yes she could “belt out” sang! Those days are branded in my mind and heart. They are and always will be a part of us.
Written by Christine Parker