I’ve just finished up grading for my composition Fall semester and since have been feverishly compiling grocery and shopping lists for our holiday gatherings at camp. I was thinking about the years of cooking and gathering as I grew up, thinking about my mother, now gone, and my father, now 85, and how we informed one another’s lives in terms of culinary prowess. Here is an excerpt from my current project: Woodfire Diaries: Cooking and Writing on the Little Two Hearted River:
It became clear to me from watching my parents, who had a marriage not made in heaven, that food was a powerful force between them. My parents were each of them half English and half German and those cultures influenced their cooking some to be sure—Christmas dinner, for instance, was always Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding; but they were adventurous eaters and chefs and explored international cooking before many of those restaurants had even appeared near our small town of Haslett—or in the larger university town of East Lansing, Michigan. They made Mexican food from scratch, Cajun food, Indian food, Scandinavian food and much more. They were also influenced in a particular way by my father’s roots — a long pioneer history in Elk Rapids, Michigan, his grandfather a rugged steamboat captain during the lumber boom–and by my mother’s family’s farming background in Michigan’s thumb.
So as a result, what we ate was not always sophisticated fare, but it was always interesting.
Pizza was nearly the only junk food my brother and I could talk my parents into, and they cooked every day of their lives. Leftovers were eaten for lunch or breakfast, though, if my mother had anything to say about it—they were never discarded and this instigated the garbage can wars, wars my mother always won in the short run. She’d come home sometimes to find my father angrily throwing out small frozen packages of aluminum foil— shiny leftover pieces of her soul—that had been in our freezer for over a year, an act of defiance on his part that would precipitate a two-day fight.
At any rate, they saw feasting and food as a celebration of life, and so powerful was this shared view that it kept them together for the odd 40-some years of their tumultuous marriage. It was creative, it was fun, no matter which of them was in charge (and my father was every bit the chef my mother was), but above all food was passionate.
And it was a passion shared.
For better or worse, they fed one another.
I’ll post a few other excerpts this month as they seem so appropriate to the season. Cheers!