Speaking of Food
In my family’s kitchen hangs an embroidery hoop of cross stitching that reads, “Squash Delight: ‘Best Vegetable Recipe Ever’ — Mrs. D.W. Spurlock.”
The entire recipe is preserved there as a tribute to my mother’s mother who was a semi-vegetarian and a most formidable woman — part Martha Stewart, part Joan Crawford. Eating at her table was an exercise in discipline and woe be to anyone who chewed with an open mouth or leaned over the plate to take a bite.
But her Squash Delight was delicious, she could cook a perfect ham (one meat she permitted herself) and I also remember the crisp white toast she made most mornings in her gas stove, perfuming the entire house with the smell of butter. My father’s mother was the “kindly” grandparent and when we’d visit her in Lafayette, Louisiana, sometimes arriving in the middle of the night, she would drop everything and make us all hand-cut fried potatoes and Cajun coffee milk.
My mother was famous for her loaves of rich brown bread, laced with honey and intended to be consumed right out of the oven with whole sticks of butter and slabs of sharp cheese or dunked into one of her stews.
These were all remarkable women, multifaceted, talented, determined and loving, but the thing I remember best about each of them is the memories they created and the lessons they taught with food. Lesson one was this: food is not just nutrition, it’s a universal language, subtle, complex and persuasive.
Today’s Women of Food featured in this issue are articulate speakers of this language who understand its potential. Food unites us, preserves cultures and inspires exploration and sharing. Food is a fundamental force and the way we create and consume it says much about how we look at the world, how we treat our environment and who we are as people. The old chauvinist chestnut goes, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” It only takes a tiny edit to make that more correct: “the way to humanity’s heart is through its stomach.”
Today my family has a new crop of remarkable women of food. My youngest daughter, a member of Food Corps, has become the culinary conscience of the family, inspiring us to seek out humane and local sources for our cuisine. (She also seems to have inherited my mother’s bread-making gene.) My older daughter, an artist by disposition and training, is swiftly transcending my own (substantial) skills as an amateur chef. I’m confident both of them are destined to provide future generations with their own culinary memories preserved in family legend. And I believe that each of them will communicate eloquently in the language of food to make the world a better, happier place.
1 pound squash, cooked, drained, buttered
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I prefer yogurt)
1/2 cup chopped water chestnuts or nuts (water chestnuts are the classic version)
1/2 cup grated cheese (I prefer extra sharp cheddar)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup green pepper or pimiento
salt, pepper to taste
Mix into casserole. Top with bread or cracker crumbs. Dot with butter. Bake at 350 degree for 30-40 minutes until brown.
This is the original recipe as transcribed from a 3×5 card that was hand-written by my grandmother. We've made lots of minor adaptations over the years. Feel free to make your own.