Childhood memories often lure me into a disappearing world of culinary and sensory delights. Those were the days of anticipation which made you drool when you heard the rotary mixer hit the side of the glass bowl, the popping of grease from frying chicken, or the smell of a fresh-baked pie.
These days I just buy a candle called apple pie spice and plop a bucket of KFC on the table beside bottles of designer water. Those culinary and olfactory pleasantries of yesteryear are likely to cause a panic attack among the self declared food police
who have taken all the fun out of eating. Frying anything is considered gauche; lard has become the devil himself; and the mixer is dying of boredom because everyone is avoiding sugary desserts which require one.
Entertaining has become a nightmare because in my circle of friends and family everyone is either vegan, gluten-free, lactose intolerant, popping pills for acid reflux or worried about animal rights. Counting carbs is more fashionable than calories and suddenly the lowly potato is in danger of extinction. I’m almost glad Granny never had to see such a travesty.
Cooking has become a challenge of monumental proportion especially during the holidays when you strive to accommodate every taste and ban all things judged unhealthy by someone in Washington. Ordering a salad when you really want a burger has become a badge of honor and depriving ourselves is a national past-time. So why as a nation have we become fatter? Could it be we’re sharing our beds with a package of Oreos after everyone goes home?
I can see my grandmother’s Christmas table groaning with platters of mashed potatoes swimming in gravy, corn on the cob picked at its peak and flash frozen, peas cooked in bacon drippings and the best corn bread dressing this side of the Mississippi. She would have cringed at my table laden with some unidentifiable substance pictured above called tofu, a newfangled grain called quinoa (pronounced Keen-wa) and stove top stuffing mix. Oh the horror.
The food prepared by my grandmother was simple fare, and to date has never been replicated outside her blue and white checkered kitchen. Her menu always included squash and onions fried in bacon drippings, long-simmered collards mingled with white cuts of turnips dressed in hot-pepper vinegar, and butter beans cooked down to creamy heaps. These dishes were eaten before the main event which was pecan pie if the trees produced that year or egg custard pie if not.
My grandmother’s spice cabinet contained salt, pepper, cinnamon, and vanilla. That was it. I doubt she ever heard of cumin or dried basil. And Rosemary was the name of her second cousin.
While trying to live healthier lives and trim the extra pounds, food became the enemy somewhere around 1980 when processed food emerged as a cheaper alternative to fresh fruits and vegetables.
We live in an age when professional cooks are household names, and some of them are as famous as athletes or movie stars. We spend more time watching food being cooked on television than we spend actually cooking it. We are so incredibly blessed as a nation but I can’t help but feel we have sacrificed the tastiest of creature comforts to conform to the latest designer fare.
May each of you have a Merry Christmas filled with peace, joy and at least a few dishes your grandmother would recognize.