This memorial day I was reminded of a very important lesson. Food has the power to bring people back home. There are some dishes you can eat and there is something about that dish that just brings you back home, or brings you back to the kitchen of someone important in your life. I know I have shared this before, but Zoë and her friend Billijo love my cabbage casserole. The two of them when they sit down to eat it make sounds that would make someone think they were doing something other then eating dinner. The last time I made this casserole for them, the two of them sat there making sounds and enjoying their casserole while I enjoyed my simple mixed green salad with feta cheese and Greek tempeh.
I wasn’t surprised that they went crazy over the casserole, they always do. What was different this time was that I got to go somewhere else with Billijo this time. She took me on a journey of her life. In talking about what it was about this dish that she loved, she began reflecting on a person she knew who would make similar dishes and this casserole brought her back to this woman’s kitchen table and the tastes, aromas, and love. Food has this way of bringing us back in time to some of the most amazing memories in our life.
There was a woman I was friends with in college who loved macaroni and cheese. I am not talking about the homemade mac and cheese, or even gourmet type mac and cheese, but that boxed variety of mac and cheese that comes in a blue or some other colored box. Whenever she got homesick, which happened quite often as I recall, she would fix a box of macaroni and cheese. It was one of those dishes her mom used to make for her all the time. Even though she had eaten non-box mac and cheese, they could not take her to that same place of comfort that the boxed variety could.
The other day, I found myself going back as well. My parents were Jewish and so I was raised with lots of Jewish type foods. Every Passover there was gefilte fish and horseradish in the refrigerator. Before my mom started working, she and I would make our own gefilte fish. While the jarred variety brings me home, there was one time a few years ago, I had the chance to have homemade gefilte fish again, and it brought me back to my mom’s kitchen table. A bagel with lox and cream cheese, especially if it is Temptee cream cheese, will take me home anytime.
There are times that food becomes more then just something we eat. It becomes a ticket home, to memories of love and family. It is funny how connected spiritually we are to food. We get together at holidays and there are foods that just have to be there. For me, thanksgiving is not thanksgiving if I do not have creamed onions on the table and stuffing. I can pass on the turkey and gravy, but there has to be creamed onions and stuffing. A friend of mine says she cannot eat ham without sitting around her mom’s table at Easter. Another friend of mine makes a huge pot of “gravy” every Sunday to go on top of his pasta and meatballs. It is his way of sharing a meal with his family, who he does not get to see as often anymore.
Just about everyone I know has a food story to share. What is amazing is to watch their spirits travel and how they bring you with them as they journey back in time and sit at different people’s tables. While we may never physically leave the table, the food and the stories behind it bring us to places and spaces that bring us joy and feed us spiritually.