Heirloom Meals: Savoring Yesterday's Traditions Today

Wednesday July 11, 2012

Storytelling Saturdays:
Considering Cravings (by Michelle Anderer)

This week, Carole has asked me to consider the foods that I crave most on returning home to my small mining town, Copperton, in southwestern Utah.

I pondered this a while, as my tastes from early childhood have considerably changed with the exposure to new foods and a stronger sense of where my meals originate and are processed from.  As a result, grape juice from concentrate, frozen French fries, and pancakes from quick mixes are now off the list. Regardless of this, I still have a weakness for Kozy Shak’s Tapioca pudding cups and beg my mother profusely to buy them before I return home, so that they are waiting for me in the morning. 

My grandmother never cooked more than the odd dry chicken or ham for the holidays when my mom was a kid, so she tells me. Her expertise lay in the sugary confectionary of candies and sweets, which were about the only homemade things that my mom could ever recall her making, to this day. In hindsight to this, my mother has come considerably far in her own meal-making, and there are several, relatively homemade dishes that I find instant comfort and inner peace with as soon as I smell them. Her famous chicken Coq a Vin, for one.

My mother’s job keeps her away from the house most of the day on weekdays and is thus a big fan of the bag-freeze method of making meals that are time consuming. She will often devote an entire day to making the Coq a Vin, cooking it slowly in a huge soup pot for hours, adding in a touch of this and that for seasoning, sticking her wooden spoon in every so often to balance the flavors. Once the chicken is finally cooked, the meat is practically falling off of the bone and is infused with the delicious broth from the pot. Quick as anything, she will lay out handfuls of plastic zip lock bags onto the counter and ladle portions of Coq a Vin into each bag, carefully labeling each bag in black sharpie. Then off to the big freezer downstairs they go, to be slowly consumed over the next few months at the family’s leisure. For me, there is nothing more comforting than coming home for lunch and getting into one of those freezer bags. Even the defrosting part in the microwave is a kind of food ritual in our house. And the Coq a Vin? To die for.

Since coming to Smith College and getting absorbed by Carole’s own food process, I’ve come to appreciate the difference between canned vs. locally grown produce, plantation beef vs. grass fed, and admit that the homemade tapioca pudding that we made several weeks ago, seriously trumps my treasured Kozy Shack cups. I see this as a positive thing, as I am likely to make more meaningful decisions regarding food when I return home in the future, bringing with me the recipes and cooking skills that I have developed over the summer at Heirloom Meals headquarters. I plan to make some killer batches of tapioca, canning them in the fridge for months of enjoyment in the traditional family way. More importantly, it will be my way of giving back to my mother, of saying, “thanks for the home cookin'.”