Beyond Slow to Timeless

Thanksgiving 2007 ChallahWhen my multi-talented main man made this beautiful bread for Thanksgiving, 2007, he may have thought about his Uncle Nate, who made challah. When Nate made challah, he may have thought of his elders, who made challah before him. When we grow, cook, and eat food, we do what humans -- and all life -- have always done. It can be gratifying to know we are following the ways of particular humans who are important to us, eating what they ate. Given that this post begins with challah and ends with pork sausage, I must note also that we often find it satisfying to avoid what others in our "tribe" avoid. Some people, though, enjoy throwing off the past with its taboos in order to taste everything.

I think the present is the most wonderful time to be alive since time began, that now is the time with the greatest freedom and possibility for people of good will, and particularly for women. Yet when food is concerned, even though I loathe nostalgia, I value the past. More accurately, when I cook, I feel myself joined, pleasingly joined, to a timeless stream of knowledge and culture, savvy and satisfaction that includes past, present, and, I trust, an abundant future.

Recently I am delighting in reconnecting with a childhood friend, now an occupational therapist. She sent me an intriguing cookbook, the Better Homes and Gardens Heritage Cookbook from 1975. When I asked her to tell me more about it, she told me a powerful story about food and memory. I have her permission to share it with you.

When I worked at Eastern State Hospital, I led a cooking group with patients on the geriatric unit. I grew a garden and managed an apple orchard with the younger patients at the hospital. The older folks and I would go to the garden and orchard to harvest foods and prepare them for supper.

This was an amazing experience. Many of these patients could no longer tell me their name, but place a knife and bowl of potatoes or apples in front of them, and they knew exactly what to do. No instruction needed. We made fabulous meals.and sat at large tables to eat, family style, as many of them knew from their earlier days. Memories flowed around those tables.

One of the men, a former slaughter house owner, kept talking about killing hogs and making sausage. He said, "I can smell those hogs hanging in the slaughter house and the smell of sausage." The fact that he came to me two days in a row to talk about this was most impressive. This man did not know who he was, or where he was. I knew I needed to act on this "memory" for him.

I found a recipe for making sausage in this book. We ground the pork loin using an old meat grinder from my attic. In retrospect, the recipe was not needed. He and one of the women took the lead with the sausage making. They ground the meat, put a pinch of this spice, a smidge of that and a dash of another. We cooked the sausage, eggs, gravy and biscuits  and had a feast. I hadn't thought of this story in many years. Your question about the book brought that one back for me. Thank you!