The people's voice of reason

Tears and Laughter: The Season of Cooking

The temperature in my quiet kitchen early in the morning has felt a few degrees cooler this week. I am still drinking coffee out of a cup with a pink flamingo on it, but summer is being ushered out by fall.

Before long, a flurry of leaves will be followed by the first frost.

I am from people who did not believe in eating certain foods until after the first frost – like cabbage and collards. Turnips, carrots…root vegetables.

These were people who collected cookbooks but didn’t use recipes.

I am from a big family. They are not all here with us any more, but for a time when I was younger…they all knew how to cook.

That of course did not make them in any way special. Once upon a time everybody knew how to cook, and the women in my family were no exception. They took a lot of pride in their cooking. They all felt they cooked things the right way and they strongly believed their way was the right way. They made their families believe it too.

Some of my aunts would go so far as to let the family know which bowl of potato salad to eat – and also which to avoid – at the fall revival.

They were not being mean about it. They were not the type of people that would ever be rude or hurt anybody’s feelings.

It was just after a few years of going to church with the same people they knew who put too many pickles in their potato salad, who didn’t boil the potatoes long enough, and who lets their mayonnaise sit out on the counter too long.

They were so confident in their cooking that on Sunday afternoons when they would pile around at Granny’s with cookbooks spread on their laps, they would often critique them as much as they would read them.

If they ever followed a recipe step-by-step, it was handwritten by somebody they loved…usually on the back of an envelope, or a piece of paper torn from a brown grocery bag.

I grew up in Sandflat – a community just south of Thomasville. I was a student of the Thomasville City School system for 11 year prior to moving to Chilton County, where I graduated, and I never – at either school – took a single semester of home economics. I don’t know how in the hell I ever got married.

It was the 1980s, and a lot of people in rural Alabama still believed that a woman could not get married if she did not know how to cook…at least not to anybody worth having. A lot of people in Alabama still feel that way even today, and I am not here to argue with them, but even back then society was changing. There were stoves in certain classrooms, but that class was not an option for girls who wanted a career. And according to the society that was forming around us, we were all supposed to want a career. We needed to know how to figure out what X equaled more than we needed to know how to cook an egg. We were supposed to want a career more than we wanted a man, a marriage, a baby, or a home.

As it turns out, one has little to do with the other. And over time, all of the stoves have been removed from the classrooms. It still not a bad idea to know how to cook though, even if you aren’t after a man…because soon there will be the first frost.


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