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Friday, July 2, 2010

Going Back To Your Culinary Roots

"No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice
and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers." ~ Laurie Colwin
If I had a dime for every time someone said, “I use the same recipe Judy did and it never comes out the same”...  I watched Mama make biscuits a hundred times and I would ask her to just write it down. She used to ask me how was she supposed to write down something she “just did”? “Just Watch," she would say. I watched as she added flour to Grandmama Bradham’s “biscuit bowl”(an old aluminum bowl that looked like Charlie got after it with a hammer). She made a “well” in the center of the flour, poured in some milk and then added a generous hand-full of shortening. She said that it was the hand-mixing that made them taste so good. But somehow that pile of goo turned into some of the most wonderful tastes, smells, and memories that I could ever have imagined. I remember opening the oven and seeing these golden brown, flat, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth biscuits that smelled so good that you could hear the drool sizzle as it hit the oven door! We had to flip the biscuit over and spread jelly on the bottom because you could not cut the biscuit without it crumbling to pieces. Daddy used to joke and say they were “crummy.” I can still see him sitting there after supper with the handle of his spoon making a “well” in a biscuit and pouring syrup inside until it ran over spilling on the plate. (That is, if we were out of Aunt Dot’s Fig Preserves.)

I remember growing up “in the kitchen.” When someone was down, you cook. When someone was celebrating, you cook. When someone had a death in the family, you cook. It wasn’t so much the food that Mama cooked that made it taste so good...(and here’s the secret) it was the love Mama added that made it all so special. I never realized just how much Mama did for so many people until she was gone and the stories started coming to me from everyone she touched in her life. I have boxes of cards, cut-outs from magazines, and hand-written copies of dozens and dozens of recipes Mama collected over the years. She wrote notes on them. She wrote notes in cookbooks she gave to me. She also kept cards as reminders of what people liked so she could make special things for them again when they were down, or “up.” She kept 3X5 cards recording special dinners.

For example:

Gary & Kathy Taylor - Mr & Mrs Thames June 1970
Turkey & Gravy
Rice (cream and sugar for Gary’s rice)
Sweet Potato Imperial
Corn Pie
Emerald Salad (Gary’s favorite)
Red Velvet Cake

If someone asked Mama to make “that chicken” she made last time, she could look it up.... She also wrote notes like: (.... doesn’t like...) and (.....s are ....’s favorite) or (...... is allergic to .....)

All these things made you feel like you were the center of every meal
and the meal was always unforgettable.

It was a time... "sometime before flirting became extinct, when letter writing was an art, stationary was engraved, and dinner was an event." Dash Goff, the writer to Julia Sugarbaker on Designing Women


  1. Wow! You know I love this, Lynn! When I read about your Mama making biscuits, I could picture my grandmother doing the same thing! Her biscuits were heavenly! When I would try to duplicate her efforts, I would always fall short! She'd smile and say, "Well, you're probably not holding your mouth right..." As with biscuits, so with pie crust and any other "short" dough... it takes a very light touch. Looking forward to much more from you, Lynn!

  2. I watched my grandma make biscuits hundreds of times. The thing that amazed me the most is when she finished her hands were clean, not a speck of sticky dough on them. That's something I cannot manage to do. From watching her, I've always said that biscuit making is an art. I keep practicing making biscuits and they've gotten better but I've got a long way to go before I can consider my biscuits an art piece.

  3. Michele, I've gotten that responce before! "You're not holdin' your mouth right!" Maybe so, when I make biscuits, I'm sure my face is all twisted up :-)

    Kellie, I know what you mean. My Mama's dough was a very wet dough, but she always had clean hands in the end. I don't think I mentioned here that she also layed the back of three fingers on each biscuit and made indentions in each one. Just another personal touch!