About 6 years ago, I was new to Corpus Christi, Texas and was facing the prospect of cooking my first Thanksgiving meal by myself. I had always been around some branch of the family or the other, all chipping in and trading recipes, and I was daunted by the task before me. I know that I was only cooking for my little family and some friends, all of whom had eaten my food before, but still I was overwhelmed.
You see, Thanksgiving for me had always been synonymous with family. Lots and lots of family. Our celebrations started early, ran late, and easily hosted a rotating flow of upwards of 30 or so people. It was loud and crazy and filled with so much love that you could feel it in every breath you took. I wanted that feeling and my family.
So, I did what every girl does when overwhelmed and needing comfort- I called my mother. I cried about being alone. She cried about me not being there. I panicked. She comforted. You know how it goes.
But then, she pulled out "The Box". The same one pictured here. My great-grandmother's recipe box. Stock full of family recipes, her own and her mother's and grandmother's, all carefully scrawled on various index cards and papers and tucked away with love. This box carries generations of cooking knowledge. It has been passed down and shared throughout the family for far longer than I have been alive and it will continue to be.
With painstaking care, Mom read Granny's spidery handwriting and gave me her recipe for cornbread dressing. We cried again as we reminisced over the hours long games of canasta that we would play at her little wooden table while we waited for food to cook. We laughed over the fact that her pepper was measured in packets (like she used to get at her local Hardees and hoard like a squirrel). We laughed harder as we tried to figure out how much a "ladle of broth" actually was. I mean, who has the same ladle?!
Over the course of the next days, Mom helped me gather recipes and figure out what could be made ahead so I could push out a grand meal from my pill-box of an apartment kitchen. With much experimentation and no small amount of calls for clarification, I managed to pull off a pretty good version of Granny's cornbread dressing. And when I set that dish down, I realized that I brought so much more than food to the table.
There she was. Oversized robe and curlers, sparkling eyes giving me a wink for a job well done... The memory was so real, I would swear I could have reached out and touched her.
My little family sat down to eat Thanksgiving dinner, complete with her cornbread dressing, Mema's giblet gravy, Uncle Bobby's sweet potato soufflé, and my Momma's strawberry candy for dessert. So many dishes with so many people and so many memories. Suddenly, my kitchen table didn't feel big enough to seat all the people I brought to it. It wasn't large enough to hold the love that was so thick in the air that you could breathe it.
And I wasn't lonely anymore.
I think that this was truly the moment that I fell in love with food and cooking. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, food is tradition you can taste. At that moment, right then, I realized that it wasn't just what went in the belly that was important, it was what went into what goes in the belly. It's the pound cake that no one can ever make as good as Granny, even with her recipe. But when you smell it cooking, you can picture those green cabinets and yellowed tile and you know it's a special occasion. It's seeing Grandma smile at you from over her shoulder while you cook down the fatback for her red rice.
From our family to yours, have a wonderful Thanksgiving. We pray that you build memories, trade recipes, and feel overwhelming love.