Kitchen Memories

“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy.. So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart.” Philippians 1:3-4, 7

Today, after frying bacon, I began to scrape the grease into a bowl using a small spatula. Instantly, I was transported back in time; I was a little girl, probably no more than 5 or 6, standing in a commercial kitchen behind my Granny. The griddle was huge, and I had been strictly warned not to touch it. I don’t remember what she was cooking. For all I know, she may have just finished making me a grilled cheese sandwich. But I remember watching with fascination as she methodically pulled her spatula up and down that grill, pushing the grease into the catch tray.

Thinking about Granny brings to mind how she used to give me a quarter for the jukebox in the restaurant where she worked or when we broke beans together on her front porch. I remember calling her and telling her I was “starved” and how she cooked chicken tenders and fries and walked them half-way up the hill from the restaurant to where I was working an after-school job. I remember how, at my request, she fixed fried chicken and chocolate pie and sent it with my parents when they came to visit me at college. And I remember sitting in the floor of my dorm room sharing that treasured meal with my friends.

Funny how scraping bacon grease can conjure up so many memories.

But, for me, the kitchen is a museum of memories.

When I fix lasagna, I think about the first time I made it for my then boyfriend (now husband), how I had to call my mom for the recipe and how I cried because I was so afraid I would mess it up. “I should have learned to cook!” I said. And I smile because so many years later, cooking has become such a large part of my life.

I shake my head when I make potato soup and laugh because I remember how often my mom still calls me for that recipe she can never remember.  And I marvel that so many years later, I still can’t make baked beans or macaroni and cheese taste as good as hers. I can’t cook a ham, no matter how big or small, without thinking about mom’s holiday feasts, and I’m filled with overwhelming gratitude for the blessing of a close-knit family with whom to share them.

On the rare occasion that I make a breakfast dinner, I patiently and slowly stir the chocolate gravy and  am reminded of my good friend Mrs. Sherry who introduced me to that delicacy. No matter the season, my mind takes me back to winter slumber parties where multiple families were camped out on her floor after a night of sledding. And I remember waking up to the smells of breakfast and the sound of laughter in her kitchen.

I have a friend who calls her garden a “memory garden.” I had never heard of that before and was fascinated when she would point to one flower or plant after another telling me where she got and why it was special. She doesn’t buy plants. She gets seeds or cuttings from people and places that mean something to her, and so her yard is adorned not only with vegetation but more importantly with memories.

That’s the way I like to think about my kitchen. When I open up my recipe book, it’s as if I am cracking open a photo album, but the pictures are inside my head.

A casserole recipe reminds me of friends I haven’t seen in years. I remember the first time I ate it was when they had us over for a meal.   A well-loved soup recipe reminds me of a relative who shared that same recipe with us on the day we moved into our new house. When I make scoop-and-bake cookies, I recall two different friends, both named Amanda. I remember one Amanda bringing her children over on a wintry day and taking my boys out to play with them in the snow while I stayed in and made hot cocoa and cookies to enjoy upon their return. The other Amanda enjoyed many evenings with me, sitting together eating cookies and drinking milk after an active day helping chase my four boys.

Food opens up a way to recollect good times, celebrate special moments, and make good memories.

Of course, many times cooking is a chore, something that I do because it has to be done. With four hungry boys and a husband to feed, there’s a lot of cooking and eating in my house. But often, when I let myself savor the moment, cooking becomes a trip down memory lane, a way to remember, and an opportunity to give thanks—not only for the good food that feeds our bodies but for the people in my life who have for so many years nourished my soul.