Thursday, December 26, 2013

Family Food

Did anyone eat anything new at Christmas dinner? Maybe a new side dish or dessert, perhaps, but in the main, probably not.

There are certain foods I want to have on Christmas Day. Pam’s mother (Mema) makes a carrot cake that has no equal, and she makes it every December for Christmas. When we are there on Christmas, I have to have a piece, probably two. It can be 9 a.m., and I'm eating carrot cake.

That’s what my Christmas breakfast generally consists of: Mema’s carrot cake.

Hey, it’s one day out of the year. I can eat eggs or yogurt for breakfast the other 364 days.
My mom can serve whatever she wants for Christmas dinner—ham, turkey, kielbasa, I don’t care—but her potato salad better be there. Nobody’s potato salad is like Mom’s. She doesn’t think it’s anything special, but my kids and I disagree. It has its own distinctive flavor and appearance, and she always serves it in the same Tupperware bowl that she’s been using since I was a kid. It has to be there.

You may not think it’s anything special, but she’s been serving it for years, and it better be there. And it will. We don’t have to tell her, “It better be there.” It just always is.

Can’t have Christmas without Mom’s potato salad. If, like this year, we’re having Christmas dinner with Pam’s family, I'll still eat some of Mom’s potato salad when I go back over there later in the day.

The other day Pam and Angela got together to make Mema’s carrot cake. I did a taste test, and, yes, the tradition will be carried on for many, many years. They nailed it.

I’ve also given Angela strict instructions to learn how to make Mom’s potato salad. When I am an old man I want to still be eating Mema’s carrot cake and Mom’s potato salad on Christmas Day.

I'm not against trying new foods, nor am I opposed to improving old dishes. But sometimes old is better. Sometimes things don’t need improving. Sometimes you want to eat something that you’ve eaten all your life because it reminds you of every other Christmas you’ve ever had. All the joy. All the laughter. All the comfort. All the family.

And at some point, when the people who made it for you all your life are no longer there, seeing it there in the same bowl, tasting just like it always did, somehow brings them into the celebration.

Nobody could make chicken and dumplings like my Grandmother Eubanks. Nobody. I only got to have them once a year at the annual Eubanks reunion in Lucedale, Mississippi at Easter, but, man, were they good. And we’d eat them all day long.

Of course, Grandmother Eubanks didn’t use a recipe. She’d been making chicken and dumplings all her life and just knew how to do it. So her dumplings were not reproducible.

As a consequence I haven’t tasted really, really good chicken and dumplings since it became too much for her to cook for all of us, sometime when I was in high school.

When I pastored in Georgia there were a couple of women in my church who came pretty close, and I would get excited whenever they invited me over for chicken and dumplings. They were good. But they weren’t my Grandmother Eubanks’ chicken and dumplings.

I don’t know if, in the age to come, we are still cooking and eating and doing a lot of the things we are doing now; I rather think so. And if that is the case, Grandmother Eubanks may be a little surprised if one of the first things I say to her after our reunion is, “Can you make some chicken and dumplings?”

Or maybe she won’t be surprised at all.

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