“Just hold the fork upside down and spin it around ... ,” Mom said, coaching us from behind with the gentleness of golf pro. My younger sister and brother and I were poised with forks over the saucer of spreading sorghum. Yellow butter oozed between the tines, creating a bronze swirl that would soon become one with a buttermilk biscuit.
The biscuits, fresh from the oven, had undergone a dramatic makeover from being a moist slab of dough flattened by a rolling pin. Standing tall, with steam rising from the flaky tufts inside, each had a golden top.
It was a Sunday morning, and I knew that most of our friends were probably spreading Welch’s jelly with a knife. A knife! How easy would that be?
Sharing traditions took time. From salting watermelon to the secret of bread-and-butter pickles, it was classic “When We Were Kids 101” and the rewards were delicious. Growing up in mid-south suburbia, I’m almost sure we were the only family with several iron skillets stored in a GE stove.
Decades later, I can’t recall ever spreading molasses with anything but the round side of a fork from a saucer.
Mom placed such historic dignity into so many of our family meals – recipes (or the lack thereof), dining nuances, her WWII Victory Garden. What I didn’t realize then, but know now, was that Mom was the first “foodie” I would ever meet. And she continues to be my favorite foodie today.
She was Kentucky Proud before it became a bumper sticker.
In the ‘50s, food became income when Mom got steady work in Lexington as a major appliance spokesmodel and sales rep. With her flashing smile, belted cotton dress and smart heels, Juanita moved efficiently between raw meat in the fridge and sizzling roast in the oven.
And then I arrived. Mom loves telling folks how she drank tomato juice from a Mason jar the entire time she was pregnant with me – and that’s why I love tomatoes.
Nowadays, I enjoy her regular letters in familiar cursive, describing the birds, the weather, antique finds, and what’s cooking on the stove.
This year’s first harvest report was a bucket full of greasy beans, a favorite heirloom. The remaining beans – Roma, Brown Stick, Half-Runners and Case Knife – await their canning destinations.
I keep every letter. I make every bean.
Over the phone, scores from her backyard crops are regaled with the spirit of a huntress. “Can you guess what I pulled out of the garden today?” she purrs.
I wait for it.
“A four-and-three-quarter-pound cabbage!” she cackles.
Mom’s green thumb often results in vegetation as big as your head, and she has the kettles and pans to handle the incoming bounty. Her rural south-central kitchen is just one overhead camera away from being a cooking show.
Last year, Mom and my brother visited the Douglass Loop Farmers’ Market. I loved trotting her out among friends, farmers and a few strangers. Because, you know, she’s never met one. Me neither.
If it’s true I’m turning into my mother, I might as well head for the kitchen ...