Friday, May 14, 2010

?'s what's for dinner.

The last few days I've been thinking about my mother asking her mother about what her mother cooked. (The fact that I have a direct live connection - my grandmother - to someone whose identity was formed in the 19th century - my great-grandmother - thrills me.) I've been thinking about this while I do my daily planning (too much) for what to cook myself, my man (when he's not cooking for me), the baby, and "Googa," which is what the baby calls my older son. My man and I struggle weekly, if not daily, to take picky eating, the budget, convenience, health, and the planet into consideration when shopping and cooking. For any ingredient in any recipe or any foodstuff, I probably have at the bare minimum 5 choices within a 5 mile radius of my house.

I'm imagining I'm my great-grandmother (GG to keep from writing it over and over). I'm living in rural South Central Texas. It's 1916 and I have a husband and 11 children. It's late afternoon and everyone will be hungry by 6. What's for dinner? I'm not as interested in exactly what my GG would have served, but more what her thought processes were to make the meal happen. Because if I think it's stressful to figure out what my 2 kids and man and I are going to eat at 6:30 as I'm driving home from work at 5:30, what if my only choices were what was growing or walking around in my yard, or stored away from the hopefully-successful fruits of past labors? My first thought is that THAT had to have been stressful. (If I had to create meals that way currently, we'd be eating begonias and a stray cat.)

Back to my GG and imagining what she was thinking as she planned dinner... First, the time of year would be making a huge difference - was she picking ingredients, killing them, bringing them in from the barn, opening a jar of them, raiding a hive for them, bartering with her neighbors for them? Other considerations... caring for the planet and recyclable packaging... huh? Eating local... was there another option? Eating sustainable.... how about sustaining her 11 kids? Picky eaters.... here's a situation where when Mom says "eat what I make or there isn't anything else", she meant it.

These are some of the things I'll be asking my grandmother when my mom and I go interview her next weekend...
  • What were the food resources available to my GG? (garden, beef club, her own animals, neighbors, local grocery store and for what things, fruit and nut trees, beehive, etc.)
  • What was a typical evening meal like in the spring; in the winter?
  • Who, if anyone, helped my GG prepare meals?

When is the last time I stopped to give thanks for being born in a time of such choice and plenty and truly appreciated how incredibly easy the acquisition of food is nowadays and meal planning should be? Never until now. So, tonight I'll cook whatever's in the refrigerator and like it because I didn't have to kill it myself, it was already in my kitchen waiting to be cooked, and it will only take 1/2 an hour to prepare.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Invitation

Got a call from my mom on Monday, wanting to tell me about her "food and family" conversation with her own mother. My mom had spent the last two days in the town she grew up in visiting with my grandmother (photo above), who's been living in a nursing home the last year, after decades taking care of herself. My mom visits my grandmother often - every weekend practically, if not more. I don't know what all they come up with to talk about it and it seems that even she's running out of conversation topics.

So, on this last visit, she started asking my grandmother about food and my grandmother's mother (photo at right), who died in a car accident the year my grandmother got married (1937.) My mother told me excitedly about some of the answers she got to her questions - answers that reassured us about certain things regarding Czech food in Texas. Or things that my mother knew, but had forgotten she knew. Eventually, after some satisfying interactions for my mom, my grandmother asked her inevitable question when one of us starts to poke around in her personal past.... "Why are you asking all these questions?"

My mom's first response was "Oh, Mother, you know Steve (my Dad) and I love to cook and can. And you know all the kids (me and my brothers and sister) love anything to do with food." Then she dropped the excuse that's most convenient... "And Dawn's always asking me stuff like this and I don't know all the answers."

Then, my grandmother said the magic words... "Well, tell Dawn that maybe she should come here and interview me." What???!!! This from a woman who would just sort of chuckle when I tried to speak Czech with her and who normally poo poo's any inquiries about her life. I think even my mom was surprised and is now as eager to interview my grandmother as I am. So, that's the tentative plan weekend after next... something I've been wanting to do for a very long time, but thought we'd missed our window of opportunity, since my grandmother's spirits seem to worsen every month. And she always seemed reluctant to talk about herself before... or rather seemed to discredit the importance of her experiences before the answers to my questions were even coming out of her mouth.

There are many, many wonderful stories in her. I have no doubt. I needed the invitation to feel like my interest in her life wasn't just going to feel like pestering her. Maybe she's ready, too, to have someone really listen to who she is, where she's been, what things have been important to her. Sort of like blogging.