Part of The Parent Series on how my parents have influenced my life and writing. This story was originally written in February, 2010, for a pilot project about tiny online bookstores, singular in focus and curated with love…in my case, a love of cooking (and cookbooks) inherited from my mother.
With her Southern roots and a Home Ec education, she could make anything. (Except pastries. That class was cancelled in WWII due to butter rationing and I think she’s still a little miffed about it.) But we ate like kings. I remember just one meal my family refused to eat and that’s only because it looked odd. She took it pretty well.
Then there were the books, shelves of them. Tangible bits of a cook’s life. She fell asleep at night reading recipes instead of novels. “Of course,“ we thought. “Isn’t that what all moms do?” She started my book collection with a few basics, leaving me to add nuance according to my own experiences.
As I look at those shelves now, I finally get it. My mother’s cookbooks are her personal narrative. There’s a chronology to it – family, geography, friends, travel and decades of cultural change. I especially trust the books with her notes, like the dog-eared church cookbook with a scribble by a friend’s name that says “anything she makes is good.”
I started with fudge. I’m surprised my mother said yes considering it entailed high heat, molten sugar and a short 8-year-old. But it worked and I was hooked.
My cooking life ranges from Alabama to Colorado to Italy, France and Asia. I love fruit stands and farmers’ markets. I believe amazing wine is best on a random weeknight. I think dinner guests like to help. I like beautiful plates and cookbooks with photos. I wash dishes as I go. I swear by mise en place. Someday, I’ll update my knives.