Think of something you have long enjoyed eating. Then, think of the person who might have prepared that for you and how the two, the person and their joy of that food, are so intertwined. In mid-May, on Mother’s Day weekend, many equate comforting food with mothers and grandmothers. Have you asked that person, whether it is your mother, grandmother, other relative, or a good friend to spend time with them in their kitchen? Like any craft, it is learning from an experienced person that will give you the most valuable insights. It is their encouragement that will let you know that mistakes will happen, and you are still a good person!
I still smile when I can hear my Mom’s voice, decades ago, calling us all to the table for a meal. There are eight of us kids, who span only eleven years between us. She would call us as if our names were one long word, “Julie, Jerry, Andy, David, Richy, Jeanne, Mary, Patty, come and eat.”
Our meals were never complicated or elaborate but they were always satisfying and delicious. Preparing meals for a household of ten was a constant process. So, my Mom, it seemed, was always in the kitchen. I was often summoned to assist since I was the eldest of the eight kids. There was always something in progress in our small kitchen from carrots or potatoes that needed to be peeled, seasoned ground beef that would be rolled into meatballs, or cookie dough that should be spooned onto sheets and slid into the oven.
I thought everyone had a large vegetable garden, like the one my Dad tended. I thought every family made trips to farmers’ markets to supplement the harvest of the garden. Our meals often included a fresh supply of green beans, tomatoes, zucchini, melons, and squash supplemented by the canning jars that Mom would fill with pickles, tomato sauce, applesauce, and sliced pears.
Mom didn’t complain about the amount of work it took to feed, clothe, and comfort a big family. On the contrary, she always had the energy from somewhere, to encourage us in our interests, push our abilities in school, and spend extra time at the kitchen time, after the dishes were cleared, to discuss everyday struggles.
Mom, even now, diminishes her influence on my culinary development. Yes, I have worked in white tablecloth restaurants and learned a lot about food science and international foods, but it is the vital ethic of a comforting meal I learned in her kitchen that has sustained me.
Be sure and learn from the experienced cooks in your life. Ask questions. Watch. Listen. A lot of what they do has not been written down. Then taste. Savor. And thank them for their goodness.