How do I remember my grandmother? She lived in a small town in Eastern North Carolina, in a house on Church Street that backed up to a big garden. As with many things in my life, some of my best memories of her include food.
I remember her crying when her pecan pie didn’t set. I remember her chicken salad sandwiches (crusts cut off) with fresh tomatoes and her bread and butter pickles. I remember that my mother loved her braised cabbage with peppery pork tenderloin.
Every family gathering to this day is filled with both wonderful food and adult beverages of all kinds. We have evolved from bourbon and water drunk at the sink to beers to, thanks to my cousin Chrish, wine of all kinds.
My grandmother was my favorite growing up. After I turned 5, she deemed me old enough to learn to play cards. Gin rummy, obviously. We would play together against my mother. My grandmother always won. In the afternoons, when it was too hot to do much else, we would sit at the table and eat blister peanuts and play cards. Sometimes, my grandmother would have her ladies over for lunch to play actual penny-ante poker.
If she liked the ladies, she would make shrimp salad in lettuce leaves with a side of cucumbers in vinegar or lovely Better Boy tomatoes. Or maybe her really delicious Brunswick stew with a little tiny diced fresh cayenne pepper on the side.
Does everybody have a family like mine? Food obsessed, prone to excess of all kinds, full of storytellers and odd ducks. Loud and messy and funny.
I have an idea of writing a blog about my life, through food and stories. My stab at seeing whether I could write a book or not. I’ll share recipes, stories that I hope won’t mortify my family members or call them out, but will remind us of where we came from and offer some food on the side.
What has been most on my mind lately is my mom’s passing. I’m finally getting around to selling her house and it has brought a lot back from her funeral a little over a year ago. What would I say about my mom’s funeral? The most I have cried and the most I have laughed in a long time.
Service where I was sitting in the front row. Bad deal since I suck at such things. I was basically the one supposed to stand and sit like I “knew” how to do. But a combination of general shock and my lack of attendance at church meant those behind me were stuck. Do what they knew to be right or try and not make me look ridiculous? A true Southern dilemma. Kind of funny if you think about it.
Barbecue lunch with the family and all the lovely folks who cared about my mother. I hesitate to say “sweet” mother. Because she could be sweet, but only if you deserved it. And she could be equally cutting and snide if that was called for as well.
Drinking and snacks at my cousin’s house. The last time I will be at that wonderful house next door to where my mother and Uncle Joel grew up. And taking the teenagers for a quick “driving lesson” in the cemetery, where we laughed so hard and drank wine in the back seat while they maneuvered our cars around. We took the flowers from the service and took them around the decorate the graves of our various family members.
Ending with oysters at the Sunnyside oyster bar. I remember eating there when I was little. The hot sauce poured out in coffee pitchers. The oysters shucked and dumped into little side bowls. Our kids did what many of my cousins’ did; they ate chicken in the lounge with the pinball machines and the bar. The only thing missing was my mother, who would have loved it. And maybe my grandmother.
My Grandmother’s chicken salad--
(forgive me as she never used a recipe for this)
chicken breast and thighs, boiled not to death, with ALL the skin and gristle removed
4 stalks of celery, cut lengthwise and then diced in an organized fashion
salt and pepper
shot of Tabasco
Mix to your taste but remember that moderation is a good thing. And you can’t take
something OUT but you can add more. That goes especially for mayo, salt, and lemon.