Recipe for the Dying Arts
The August sun’s above, my shadow’s leaning north, and the hose trickles over seedlings—collards, kale, beets, and mustard greens. While, my mind wanders in that alpha state of watering. I’d just heard from my friend Anne — her mother died suddenly and they’ve flown East for the services. Anne in her mid-thirties, with three young children, and an infant. Her mother had just visited for a month after the baby was born.
Yesterday, I’d unpacked a box marked “kitchen”. My new kitchen’s far from done, but I’m sorting through for an upcoming garage sale. I found an envelope stuffed with tracing paper, patterns with color indications for rosemaling. For a long time I stood going through each one, feeling the liveliness of my grandmother’s script. Her flair, the bounce, and movement of her pen’s strokes. I remembered that hand on her recipe cards, queen of the em dash.
When my grandmother died, we knew how to feed people after the service. We may not have known what to do with our grief, but the ritual of the feast was securely in place. My Great Aunt Lola’s house with tables and chairs everywhere. Many casseroles, a stately ham, warm vegetable dishes, salads and sweets galore. With the best tablecloths and holiday dishes out. My grandmother was Southern, if transplanted to Southern Oregon. For her, a funeral spread was graciousness, and comfort so the guests could pour forth their stories and condolences.
If I’d ever felt at a loss that day, I could join the kitchen, and my Great Aunt’s arms, would hold me and whisper what a special lady my grandma was. Then, as always, she’d start a story I’d heard 100 times, but was content to hear again.
Where I live now we don’t have funerals, only memorials or celebrations of life. I suppose funerals are too sad, or too religious, or too something. I’m not sure, but personally I like sad and religious when I’m feeling the mystery. Warm food, or substantial food is scarce, or a place to linger and tell stories. It’s standing and veggie plates with dip.
A while back, I’d offered to cook for a friend’s memorial, just so I could give her mourners warm food. She’d owned “Full Moon Cafe", with live poetry readings and music. She’d often told me of her soups and gingerbread, so I made gingerbread, and three soups in her honor.
If I have any impact in this life, I hope it’s modeling how we hold others when they’re vulnerable. I’ll channel the graciousness of my grandmother, my mother, my aunts, and the people I’ve witnessed who care behind the scenes.
Gingerbread’s a recipe; it lives in our lineage, but there are others — the cultural recipes which guides us through the dance of making connections, and slowing enough to pay attention and listen to the important stories. The cultural recipes carry intangible wealth, yet are lost when misunderstood by fashionable social flurries.
I can’t take their survival for granted, because like other dying arts they are revived only when practiced by the young. We must play them or lose them. My seedlings watered and standing strong, I turn off the hose and go look up my gingerbread recipe to send to Anne. She may need something dark, yet sweet for this sad and challenging time.
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Sidonie Maroon is a Recipe Developer, Food Writer, Chef and Culinary Educator.She also blogs at her recipe site: abluedotkitchen.com and for the Port Townsend Food Coop