I woke this morning and in the haze of “not yet awake” my first formed thought was that it was Saturday and the second was that I was going to make sour cream coffee cake. In a split second I was fully awake and realized it is Tuesday, a work day and not a ‘making sour cream coffee cake’ day. But I laid there and had flash after flash of thoughts about food I love to cook or eat. That lead to me realizing the connection between those foods and particular people. Sour cream coffee cake is a recipe I got from a best friend. It is made with real butter and sour cream and you cannot short cut. I then thought about chocolate covered Entenmann’s donuts as contraband, off limit snack foods when sleeping over at my girlfriend’s house. Or gluten rolls. I then thought about my Granny’s Orange Sliding Cake. It is so named because the three layer cake is made with a Cool Whip frosting. In humid Mobile, Alabama summers, Cool Whip does not always stay where you put it. That cake had to be eaten with the care of a fried catfish because she “stabilized” it by putting toothpicks between the layers. Lots of wooden toothpicks. My mother made a dessert with a package of Dream Whip, a can of cherries and a can of drained fruit cocktail. It was very pink. I can’t imagine eating it now, but we begged for it 30 years ago. I do still love apple raisin salad even though I have to forcibly ignore the use of Miracle Whip. And my Mom made great rice pudding. The full circle of things is that after a few decades of nearly gagging at the thought of rice pudding, I now actually like it.
My Granny sent a box every year during Mardi Gras. It arrived in Miami loaded with candy thrown during the parades from the floats. There were beads and real metal coins, moon pies, and at least one large Dandee bread bag filled with shelled pecans. We gave all the black and yellow taffy to Joey next door. And the pecans went into the deep freezer, rationed out all year.
Food gathers us. We break fast; we break bread. We laugh and listen and share. Food is the tender in some of our most intimate of exchanges. We offer Christmas cookies and food as house warming. We try to capture a bit of the summer bounty in a homemade jar of pickled okra or ChowChow. We puree the berries or stone fruits with sugar and make jam. Food is a unifier and the root language of the heart. And so many of my memories are tethered to food. Shrimp fresh off the boats at my PawPaw’s yacht club. Crabbing with raw chicken necks along the sea wall on Dog River at my Memaw’s, the only house I ever got to eat sugared cereal like Captain Crunch. Slushie mugs and oranges with holes cut out of them. The standard Saturday night summer dinner: hamburgers, baked beans and French fries, real potatoes sliced and fried on the top of the stove. I think of driving in the happy wagon, my family’s wooden panel station wagon, to the Dairy Queen for a dipped cone.
We commemorate life with food. Food is as much a component of our culture as music. I love waking with thoughts of food….not for the food but of the things to which the food is connected.