Here's Savoring Kentucky's Guest Blog Post Winner: Margaret Lane
Note: Savoring Kentucky hosted its first guest writer competition this spring, offering a $50 prize and a signed copy of Sweet, Sweet Sorghum to the winner of the best 700 word essay on "How did you learn to cook?" We have that winner: Margaret Lane of Woodford County, Kentucky. Read Margaret's flavorful post, followed by a short bio of Margaret's interesting life and work. We thank everyone who entered our first contest. Over the next several weeks, we will publish six finalists' essays, each with its own sweet charms. Enjoy!
Learning to Cook, and Other Life Lessons, by Margaret Lane As an eighth-generation Kentuckian, my heritage includes many good cooks… country, land- to-table, farm-to-kitchen experts ….and thousands of platters of fried chicken, local pork, crisp fried perch fresh-caught from the pond, lard-crusted pies, and early spring lettuce, radish, and onion salad. Fried creatures offered by the resident hunters and that suspicious pan of wondrous orbs proudly brought to the farm kitchen by my cattle-farmer father expanded our culinary horizons. (They didn’t look like any ‘fries’ I’d ever seen.) We enjoyed the offerings of my mother, grandmothers, and aunts who prepared the best from the land and garden with the goal of sustaining the family and sharing love at the communal table.
My maternal grandmother was known for her potato yeast rolls, the wafting aroma of which lured many a family member to her well-appointed table. On my paternal grandparents’ Bourbon County farm, Granny and Pa Adams raised, in addition to five sons, hundreds of animals and a large flock of chickens, Granny’s ‘girls.’ The pampered hens supplied components of rich yellow custards and the famous meringued banana pudding. Extra russet jewels also contributed precious ‘egg money,’ primarily designated for the missionaries from church.
On summer Sunday mornings before church, I accompanied my Granny to the chicken yard as she selected just the right-sized fryer to be sacrificed and prepared for the table. In her country kitchen, she performed whatever mysterious processes were hers in producing a platter of crisp, crusty fried chicken…. special touches that involved the big black cast iron skillet and globs of white lard from last winter’s hog killing.
Still in our Sunday church clothes, the extended family gathered at the dining room table to enjoy fried chicken, velvety smooth milk gravy, fresh fruit salad with grapes, Granny’s famous soda biscuits, and delectable cake or pie. Ample culinary largesse was always accompanied by lively conversation and fond family memories.
Both grandmothers maintained an exclusive kitchen domain, with children observing from a distance and, of course, enjoying the product...but my mother welcomed her four young children into the farm kitchen as she pasteurized milk from our own cows, allowed us to turn the churn producing homemade butter or peel potatoes for supper. A fine cook in her own right, she and my father complimented our smallest offerings…a well-made sandwich or beautifully-decorated plate.
An early memory involves the cherry cobbler my young sister and I prepared as a surprise for a special occasion. The cherries from our back yard tree glistened red ripe in sugar syrup and rested under a golden, fragrant crust…beautiful! First bites accompanied by ice cream were VERY crunchy, as we, in our culinary naivete, had failed to pit those darn cherries! The gracious company (yes, company) gingerly ate the offering and departed with most of their teeth intact, leaving discrete mounds of cherry pits on each plate to remind us of our sinful omission! Although brother loves to remind us of our first unfortunate culinary foray, Mother encouraged us to continue our kitchen efforts and I’m proud to say we never served a crunchy cobbler again!
My two sisters and brother were raised to ‘waste not, want not’ and of course, to remember the hungry children in China. (wonder if today’s Chinese children are admonished to remember the hungry children in America…) The land produced our dairy products, eggs, chicken, meat, vegetables, and fruit. It was unthinkable that my generation would not learn to prepare what agriculture had provided.
The more important memories involved family working together to make the most of nature’s bounty in providing a good life on the farm. We had observed the finest cooks, had been allowed to experiment with failures and successes, but most importantly were instilled with a love of learning and stewardship passed from generation to generation. That’s how I learned many of life’s lessons…and to cook.
Savoring Kentucky asked Margaret Lane for a bit of biographical information. Here's what she told us:
I’m a former educator who served as Executive Director at both of Kentucky’s Executive Mansions (12 years), where I had the honor of working with some of Kentucky’s fine chefs. It was my distinct honor to work with Kentucky’s Historian Laureate, Dr. Thomas D. Clark, in publishing a history of Kentucky’s Governor’s Mansions (The People’s House, 2002). Since then I’ve published three more books, including the latest, Beyond the Fence: A Culinary View of Historic Lexington. My husband and I live and work on our Woodford County farms, where we honor our heritage of land stewardship and good Southern food..…you’ll be pleased to know that I now have my own collection of cherry pitters!!
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