Sunday, November 9, 2014
A Sunday Post About Supper
"Mary Jane she set at the head of the table, with Susan along side of her, and said how bad the biscuits was, and how mean the preserves was, and how ornery and tough the fried chicken was--and all that kind of rot the way women always do for to force out compliments; and the people all knowed everything was tiptop, and said so--said 'How do you get biscuits to brown so nice?' and 'Where, for the land's sake, did you get these amaz'n pickles?' and all that kind of humbug talky-talk, just the way people always talk at a supper, you know." Mark Twain The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
As a child, I often spent time in my mother's kitchen wondering why it was she never wanted to teach me to cook. "Teach me how to cook, someday soon, why don't you, Mom?" She would say she would, someday maybe. That "day" didn't come for many years when she walked me through her famous New Mexico-style stacked enchiladas. That's the only time I remember her sitting back and telling me what next step I should take.
When I first started asking her, we were a working class family of eight. And then we grew some more. I often sat at the kitchen table or stood on a chair to get a better view of the stove top, watching things on the burners change realities. Alchemy. Cooking was magic and I could see that, but how? I must have thought that learning to cook was like learning to sew or crochet where you only had to show me a few simple techniques and then I would be off on my own, designing Barbie fashion and baby blankets, spreading Sunday supper before an admiring and awe-struck , hungry family. Simple activities with simple tools. Cooking should have been like that. A pot, a knife, a slotted spoon. What else could you ever really need? Just teach me already!
I have long since forgiven my childish misunderstanding, realizing that my current prowess as a cook owes it's unremarkable beginning to those early days of watching while waiting for the formal instruction. I turned nine before I finally gave up expecting a classroom experience in our kitchen, but still wanted to be there for the magic. I picked up a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and began reading aloud to my mother as she floured chicken pieces and peeled and carved potatoes and soaked beans and opened cans of corn.
As I read, I slipped into a very southern dialect, which was not at all hard to do because we come from family that other people either make fun of or can't understand. My own voice transported us both to that simple raft winding it's submissive way down the bucolic and willful, mighty Mississip. My mother was entertained and I absorbed cooking knowledge through my pores. Magic, I tell you.
Our own little Tommy Tucker gave out while singing and waiting for his supper this evening: