For some reason I frequently find myself writing about food.
And not just writing about it. Reading about it too. And talking about it…a lot.
Maybe it’s because food is essential to everyone’s survival and therefore one of the greatest common denominators. Maybe it’s because so much of our culture and heritage and memory is wrapped around it. Maybe it’s because I love to cook. Heck, it’s more likely because I love to eat.
Who knows? Whatever it is, this week I’m thinking about (and cooking) pinto beans. I was going to write about pinto beans, but then I realized I already did! There’s even a recipe. That’s what happens when you have a blog for 11+ years – you sometimes forget what you wrote!
But today, as I was stirring my beans to make sure they were making the perfect, “creamy” gravy, I was thinking about how food takes us back home. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cooked dinner for my husband and he’s said something like, Mawmaw made the best pinto beans. I’d eat a whole plate of just pinto beans and cornbread. Or he talks about her fried pies or biscuits. Sometimes it’s just her cooking in general – how she’d get up before daylight to cook breakfast for Pawpaw before he went to work on the railroad, how she’d can the fresh vegetables she grew, how she’d walk to the nearby butcher shop just a little ways down the road. You know it’s not there anymore. I wonder if I could find it again.
These stories of cooking turn into descriptions of their house and the things in it. There was a little porch on the front and the kitchen was in the back. I hear stories of spending the night and playing in the yard. How he’d help out mowing the grass and doing other chores. But no matter how the stories meander, they always come back to one thing – nobody but nobody cooked like Mawmaw.
I’m sorry I never got to meet Mawmaw or enjoy her food, which, by all family accounts, was next-level good. But through the stories I’ve heard told and retold and told one more time, I feel like we would have hit it off famously, like she would have embraced me as one of her own. I wonder if she would have shared her recipes with me. I wonder if she even had recipes. Would we have cooked together? What would she have taught me?
I guess I’ll never know. Even so, I still can’t help thinking about her every time I cook a pot of pinto beans. And I understand that no matter what I do – no matter how “creamy” the gravy or how well-seasoned the pot is – they’ll never be as good as Mawmaw’s mythic beans. But I do know one thing. This pot of pinto beans will not only feed the body, it will nourish the soul with happy memories of times gone by.
And that’s good enough for me.
Just a few more things:
Speaking of food, mark your calendar for the first ever Birmingham FOOD+Culture Festival on October 13 at Pepper Place. I’ll be there! What about you?