Friday, June 29, 2012

The Flavors of My Childhood



flavor |ˈflāvər|
noun
1 the distinctive quality of a particular food or drink as perceived by the taste buds and the sense of smell.


Memory is triggered by so many things -- sound, sight, smell, and flavor. How many of our memories are enhanced by flavor? My husband always photographs our meals on vacation, and it is remarkable how quickly the memories come back as we relive the food we consumed.

My childhood is alive with flavors. I grew up in the south where food ranks only second to religion. Sundays were defined by flannel boards in Sunday school; my daddy preaching from the pulpit; hymns, and maybe a baptism. But the highlight of the day was food. Were we eating at home? Was there a church covered dish dinner? Were we eating at a church member's home? Or maybe with my grandparents?

The flavors of my childhood are replete with fried chicken, biscuits, buttered corn, and green beans cooked with fatback until they are falling apart amid the swirls of fat. The salty crunch of the fried chicken leg as I bit into. The memory of it can still send me into paroxysms of ecstasy. Fluffy, lard based biscuits slathered with butter and homemade preserves. I could eat my weight in my great grandmother's biscuits.

On my mother's side of the family, it was always thin sliced ham that my great aunt had prepared. And Nana rolls. Tiny little yeast rolls ladened with butter. I think one holiday I ate 18 in one sitting!

Covered dish dinners were a pantheon of options! More fried chicken to be sure, but barbecue and macaroni and cheese (which is a vegetable in the South, thank you very much) as well. Desserts that would make your jaw hurt just to look at them. Chess pie! My favorite. The way the sugar and butter have blended together and been layered into that flaky, light pastry. It was a thing a of beauty as it dissolved into my mouth with hints of every flavor available on my tongue for just a moment before it slid down my throat leaving my mouth begging for more.

It's funny now, but we never went out to eat back then. I know some of it was money, but I think it was more about people and food. The two went hand in hand. I have often heard it said that sharing a meal is the most intimate of experiences. I think of the film Babette's Feast, and the scene in Chocolat where they all gather for Armande's birthday dinner. I think of Christ's last supper with His disciples and the memorial of communion we observe today. 

I had a therapist tell me once that he had clients who could only talk to him if they all ate together. What is it about eating and food and flavor that ties us together?

What I wouldn't give to taste a Nana roll again.


******
More stops on The She Writes Southern Writers 4th of July Countdown Blog Tour:

Tour Date: Sat. June 30
Blog Name: Delani Bartlette’s Travel Blog
Blog Owner: Delani Bartlette
Guest BloggerStacy Allen
Title"Changing The Past, Inventing The Future"

Tour Date: Sat. June 30
Blog NameEmily Kennedy, Author
Blog OwnerEmily Kennedy
Title"Southern Gentlemen"

Tour Date: Sun. July 1
Blog Name: Ryder Islington, Author
Blog OwnerRyder Islington
Guest BloggerDeidre Ann Banville
Title"New Orleans Caulbearers"

Tour Date: Sun. July 1
Blog NameA Penny and Change
Blog OwnerPenny Leisch
Guest Blogger: Trisha Faye
Title"Change...as the moon goes on shining"

Tour Date: Mon. July 2
Blog NameZetta's House of Random Thoughts
Blog Owner: Zetta Brown
Title"Texas Tornadoes and Other Memories"

Tour Date: Mon. July 2
Blog NameReflections of a Mississippi Magnolia
Blog OwnerPatricia Dorsey
Title"A (Southern) Life in Poems"

Tour Date: Tue. July 3
Blog NameA Penny's Worth
Blog OwnerPenny Leisch
Guest BloggerNancyKay Sullivan Wessman
Title"Books & Business & Reality: No magic bullet"

Tour Date: Tue. July 3
Blog NameThe Novelette
Blog OwnerLaura Gschwandtner
Title"Southern Living with True Grit"

26 comments:

  1. Great Post !!!
    I think all southerners have many wonderful "food memories" stored in our hearts !Food is so much a part of our showing of love, affection and hospitality here !

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    1. I agree! Food is so interconnected with the society of the South. Thanks for visiting and commenting : )

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  2. Hey Melanie,
    Thanks for this multi-sensory food memory. I have lived in North Carolina for almost ten years and live in a rural community that is replete with young organic and local farmers and people passionate about food. I love how people either invite you into their gardens or leave you fresh things from the garden on your doorstep. We've both lived in California where you can find some of the freshest produce, but have to admit that living in NC tops that because it's also about what people 'do' with that great fresh food down here. We've sampled many wonderful recipes while living in NC and have tried to replicate some (since neither of us are from the South).

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    1. I grew up eating fresh tomatoes and corn. Food seems to be the great equalizer in the South.

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  3. Loved it! Girl, my mouth is watering while reading your piece. If ya'll have passed down Nana's recipe for those biscuits, why not make up a batch and have them tonight with your family? Nana will love that!

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    1. I've got the Nana roll recipe because I was the only one in the family willing to ask for it. I've never made them. I guess I'm too intimidated!

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  4. Beautiful Melanie. Especially the mac & cheese being a vegetable in the south!
    My sister (a southern Calif. girl, but a rebel at heart) and niece just made a trip to meet me in Texas & drive to my dads in Arkansas. I made us all t-shirts. One was 'God bless Buttermilk Biscuits' and the other was 'God bless 'Nanner Puddin'. We have lots of 'nanner puddin' memories to laugh about.
    Thanks for a perfect snapshot of the south!

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    1. I love that in the South you can order a vegetable plate made up of mac and cheese, mashed potatoes with gravy, pinto beans, and fried okra and everyone's okay with it!

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  5. Girl, shut up! LOL You've got me SOOO hungry now! I can relate to everything you've just said. After living away from the South, whenever there's a chance to visit, the first thing that comes to mind is the food and some of the favorites that I'll soon be eating again. :)

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    Replies
    1. Then I must have done my job! Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by, commenting, but mostly for organizing!

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  6. Melanie,
    I'm right there with you! Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, slaw, chess pie! Usually some relatives in their Sunday best, and a few dogs and cats underfoot! Your descriptions are excellent; makes my mouth water!

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    1. Chess pie is the food of the gods in my estimation! Of course there's a lot to be said for the ensuing food coma that always followed Sunday dinner.

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  7. Being a Jersey Girl with a South Carolina heart I agree with it all. My favorite memory is my grandmother teaching me to make biscuits without measurements. I have never been able to measure and duplicate the taste, there is something to be said about knowing how it should look and feel and you mix it with your hands and roll and cut them with a drinking glass.

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    1. Ah the true measure of a cook -- no recipes! Food made so often and with so much love that it just streams from the hands and heart.

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  8. Your descriptions of the food are wonderful. The therapist you mentioned wisely uses it to facilitate communication, and maybe that's one way it helps all of us. We don't have to make an excuse to get together, and we don't have to take time away from something else. Everyone has to eat.

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    1. Too true. Food is such an equalizer.

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  9. Yum yum, I am having coniptions over here. The pictures were great but even without them, your words painted a picture of southern foods and eating. Food is definitely important in the south. Reminds me of the summers I spent down in Arkansas surrounded by family. My grandmother made the best chicken n' dumplings, friend chicken, Johnson gravy and chocolate pie. Whew, love it.

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    1. I'm not a meringue gal, but I was always fascinated by the sheer volume of the meringue on pies! And how did we eat all that heavy food in the heat!?!

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  10. Hey Trisha Fay, Carla on The Chew made a buttermilk pie the other day. She never lets you forget she is a southern girl from Tennessee. Think I will make it on Sunday.

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  11. Thank you for that stroll down memory lane! Sundays at our house or mamaw's house meant fried chicken and our family favorite - chicken and dumpling! Also, a cobbler with the fruit choice depending on what berry was in season.
    AHHHHH, those were the days!

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    1. Oh yea -- peach cobbler, cherry cobbler, blueberry cobbler, and apple cobbler come fall. Nothing better, unless it was the leftovers for breakfast : )

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  13. Can't say food was that big a part of my growing up but food has been much better since I've been married. I got a good cook and a sweet wife in the deal. Thanks sweetie!

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  14. Great post…my minds smell-o-vision is loudly playing reruns of tables past set by absent family matriarchs. Thanks for taking me there! The July 4 tour continues to highlight some wonderful blogs, including yours.

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  15. Oh the blessing of food! Even now there are times when I just have to have a bowl of pinto beans and corn bread. It's comfort food for me although hubby and half of my kids won't touch it.

    Wonderful post. Now I'm hungry and will have to go make some biscuits. That's the first thing I learned to cook as a girl.

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