Year after year resolutions are made and for many, food is involved. Eat less of this — eat more of that — yes to kale, no to bread, yes to eggs, no to butter, yes to wine but only if standing on one foot and after 6:00 p.m. It all becomes a bit overwhelming. When did food transition from a primal means of survival to a chess game full of rules and strategy? More than others, I feel like resolutions made concerning food are destined to fail because the contradictions outnumber the consistencies – this is difficult to admit coming from a self-proclaimed Universalist, one that believes all things are complete and whole.
Growing up Southern, in a small rural town, food was often front and center during any type of gathering. The first question that emerges when discussing coming together is undoubtedly, “What do you want to do for food?” One tradition that seems to keep its popularity is the good ‘ole potluck. A potluck dinner is when each person brings a dish to share and generational dishes have the potential to become legendary. There’s a family story about how my husband’s great-grandmother was asked for one of her famous recipes by a local newspaper. She was happy to oblige, partially – we found out years later that she may have “missed” mentioning a couple of the ingredient details during publication.
The value of food, and possibly moreover, my ability to prepare said food became ever present when I was generously gifted with twelve crockpots at one of my bridal showers. Yes, twelve. They were individually wrapped in that white, floral wedding paper and brought in by different attendees, each probably thinking this was the one gift that I must receive to obtain newlywed bliss. The twelve crockpots came in different colors, sizes, and they all seemed to have a different use: “Use this one for roasts…Use this one for dips…”
The church ladies “oohed” and “aahed” at the unveiling of each newly unwrapped crockpot.
All of this goodwill was, unfortunately, in vain as I had a secret —
I hate to cook. I’m pretty God awful at it — no meat, vegetable, or noodle is safe once it hits my frying pan. I’ve had eggs roll quickly to their death rather than meet my novice hands. I’ve burned water and I’ve had the dog run for the hills instead of be a taste tester. Traditionally and culturally for a Southern woman, this is a rather shameful confession. I could blame it on being raised by a single dad but the truth is, I’ve been around good cookin’ my entire life. Handmade dumplings, jams and apple butter, homemade biscuits from scratch — my grandmother is a country cookin’ expert. People in the entire county talk about what a good cook she is and delight in her talent. Cooking for others filled her with a sense of purpose.
What was the problem then? How could someone surrounded by talented, homegrown cooks despise the act so very much? It is my belief that there’s a complicated psychology between Southern women, food, and relationships. We could probably write an entire novel on this trifecta. The kitchen table dance goes like this:
Grandma declares, “You better not have eaten a lot before coming here…”
I confirm that I was there on an empty belly.
Grandma points, “you’re putting on some weight. You better lay off the sweets…”
I admit that’s probably true.
Dinner (which is lunch) or supper (which is dinner) commences.
Grandma is offended and asks, “Why aren’t you getting seconds? I cooked all this food, you better eat up.”
My fork suspends half raised between my plate and my mouth. In that moment in time, I honestly don’t know what the right answer is and that’s when I realize that my cooking style (and approach to life) is much less fuss. I bake. I bake with bourbon. I need one pie crust, one oven, and a set of oven mitts. My chocolate, bourbon pecan pie is often requested from friends, neighbors, local business owners, and I’m comforted in knowing it’s probably enjoyed with a cup of coffee or at the end of a long day. The steps are measured and the end result is sweet. Baking, especially baking pies, resonates with my soul. Perhaps subconsciously I love those little phrases that intermingle baking and life – “It’s easy as pie,” “they are a little slice of heaven,” “sweet as pie.”
And honestly, I don’t care if you eat the whole damn pie — You know there’s complexity there but dear, just pour the bourbon in the pie.
Cheers to simplicity — cheers to resolutions that allow women to prepare food with or without a crockpot. Cheers to taking life in measured steps but always toward something fulfilling.
Jennifer F. Boyle was born and raised in the foothills of North Carolina. She now lives in Lexington, NC and is a lover of rhetoric, western style liver-mush, education, BBQ and fully embracing her mountain mama self to two little boys and one spirited husband.