Ok, so my mom doesn’t really want to celebrate her birthday, but given that I recently celebrated Dads, I really don’t think it would be fair for this day to pass without comment, especially because my mom is the reason for my passion for food (and hence, for the existence of this blog).
My mom learned to cook at a very young age, and food and cooking became a large part of her adult life. She worked in food service for many years, including co-owning and operating a small deli, and completed a degree in Home Economics, with a strong component of food biology and nutrition. She did all of these things when my sister and I were small (and then older) children, so her work and attitude toward food provided formative experiences for me.
Some of my earliest memories are in kitchens, at home, but also in the institutional kitchens that seemed the most amazing places to me. As kids, we peered over the sides of Hobart mixers bigger than we were and marveled at the dough hooks churning through huge vats of dough and batter. After long evenings catering events, Mom would bring home trays of leftover dainty petit fours and sandwiches. Quite the midnight snacks! I remember happy hours spent spreading jam over cubic yards of sponge cake to be rolled up into English trifle (still one of my favourite comfort foods), and stirring soup simmering over low gas flames.
Mom was convinced that knowing how to cook was an essential life skill, and like all essential life skills, training started early. When I look at other people’s children now, I can understand why my grandparents were always a little nervous watching my sister and I stand on step stools to reach the kitchen counters so that we could help chop vegetables with very sharp knives! We learned to pick strawberries from the field, pick cherries and peaches from the trees, and to pick blackberries off the thorny bushes. Food was important and working hard to get it was just fine.
Growing up in the city meant that it was hard to build confidence and a sense of achievement in the way my husband did–out in the woods unsupervised–and it was in the kitchen that we learned that we could make valuable contributions to our family by helping, that we could gradually deal with more complex tasks and instructions, and that both we and food were very important.
These experiences shaped my relationships with my parents and extended family, and they made the kitchen a safe place for me. The kitchen is the place I go to relax, to have fun, to be creative, and to be ok when the world feels like it is not. And, thanks to my mom, those feelings as an adult have always been channeled into cooking healthful food for me and my friends and family, rather than into emotional eating of junk food like so many other women.
Lastly though, I think my mom’s greatest food gift to me and my sister–though I don’t know how much of a conscious issue it was at the time–was to teach us what real food tastes like and to be interested in where it comes from. Food in our home was made from scratch, and that was a priority. If time was scarce–and both of my parents worked full time, so time was of course scarce–we simply all needed to help to make the meal happen. And while my sister and I certainly went through phases of picky eating (I remember distinctly wanting one week to only eat broccoli tops, and then the next week only wanting to eat the stems 🙂 ), as adults we have absorbed the consistent messages and values that my parents wanted us to learn: that food is a gift to be treasured and given often, that food is a lifelong adventure, and that life is never too busy and complicated to cook real food. And if life ever does start preventing you from eating properly, then life needs to change!
In our family, food is a barometer of every aspect of health: spiritual, physical, emotional, social, cultural. As such, it needs careful tending and attention, and through food, the other aspects of life also receive their due. This is one of my mom’s most powerful legacies to her children, and I know we are grateful for it. Especially when someone visits my garden and tastes a strawberry and says, “That’s not what strawberries from the store taste like!”
Thanks Mom. Have a wonderful day!