Mary calls from the dining room: “Okay, how does our Louisiana family make étouffée?”
“You make terrific étouffée,” Kathy calls back from the kitchen. “You don’t need instructions for that.”
“Yes, but how will we remember ‘their way’ if we don’t write it down?”
Mary and Kathy are gathering recipes for a book my daughter is writing. I listen, noting the connections between family traditions, food, heritage. . .and memory. As they talk, I remember clearly the last time I had Nannie Jeansonne’s étouffée. All my senses are enlivened––the sound of the celery, onion and bell pepper sizzling in her cast iron skillet, the smell of garlic and Old Bay seasoning as the peeled shrimp cook, the sight of the old wooden table passed down from Na-Na Matthews. My mouth waters, but my soul yearns for more than food. “What about beignets? Mary calls. “We have to write that down!”
“Okay, I think I have the recipe in this book.”
Way back in the beginning of family food traditions, maybe there was a recipe. Over time, the recipe is adapted and changed, substitutions are made to family taste and preference. Before long, the original “how-to” can be vastly different from the family version.
“But you don’t use a book to make delicious beignets. I want to write down your recipe.”
Beignets are powdered sugary, yeasty, puffy goodness, similar to doughnuts, and oh, so delicious. I had those at Nannie’s table, too. She called them “Frogs” because the dough balloons in the hot oil just like a frog puffing its chest.
Nannie used leftover dough from her bread making to create the breakfast pastries. In our family, beignets are stand-alone treats that are handmade and time consuming to make––only for special occasions. Birthdays are such times since nothing is too much for the big day.
Mary searches her memory.
“When did beignets become a birthday thing?” She wonders aloud. They both smile and say in sync, “Amie.”
Amie’s request for her seventh birthday was fresh, hot beignets. From then on, Kathy arose extra early on November 4th to have hot beignets ready before the school bus arrived at our home. Every year.
Now that the children are adults, beignets are a general purpose treat that goes beyond birthdays, but the memory connects that treat with Amie, even now.
Kathy and Mary have been at their task for hours, and to my mind they haven’t gotten through many recipes Mary has on her to-do list. I know they are accomplishing more than committing words to paper. They are reliving memories; they are busy preserving recipes so that future family will remember all the stuff beyond the food and pass along the stories, too.
Jesus and His disciples shared meals together. It was a time for them to stop what they were doing and spend time together. They shared concerns and talked about all they were experiencing––telling stories about their lives with Jesus, stories they would relive time and time again.
Yes, food ignites a memory, creating times of fellowship not soon forgotten. It is not by coincidence that it was around a table with His loved ones that Jesus instructed, “This do in remembrance of Me.”
Homeword is written by Jim Edminson, Charity & Children Editor