I come from a legacy of cooks and generous hearted folk. My great, great grandmother Julia, my grandmother Therese, and my mother Julie. When I meditate on my maternal grandparents Therese and George Clark, I feel opulence, laughter, joy, and generosity. They love(d) parties, food, and family. I can conjure an inner fullness, gushing warmth of spirit, when I hold their images. My grandfather is the baritone belly-laughing story teller, every sentence he utters seems to have a colorful punchline, his chuckle always on standby. My grandmother was the gourmand and princess of pleasure---she loved babies, music, fine objects, celebration, and good eats.
I remember visiting my grandparents touching down in Baltimore after a flight from Minnesota, we were in transition, making a permanent move back to the East Coast and had stopped over for some grandparent refuge. We feasted on blue crabs and onion rings together and my teenage grief-stricken self, wrested from my friends of 6 years, ate ravenously. I remember my grandfather telling me, “You're a good eater,” which I received as genuine praise. That little memory never ceases to make me feel acceptance, shelter, and real love. I think in their platonic forms, this is what grandparents do---spoil with nourishment and soothe with a soft hearted, gentle touch.
My grandmother loved collecting recipes for finger foods and decadent desserts, this penchant forever archived in my facebook feed and in the many magazine clippings stuffed amongst the pages of her Joy of Cooking. She made me a fettuccine Alfredo when I was ten. I still remember those luxuriant cream coated noodles, showcasing her fearless embrace of quiet ecstasies served in bowls.
She also relished gathering stories and family history. One such story about her grandmother, my great, great grandmother, Julia Agnes Ross, is another that reminds me I didn’t fall far from the tree. Julia Agnes Ross was married to a fella named Willis (my great, great grandfather) who owned a shipyard in Baltimore. Julia my grandmother writes in the genealogy records,
...was of Irish descent and a great cook...She cooked lunch for her family and invited anyone who happened to be in the shipyard on business to join them. These meals were not your ordinary lunches. She would have a “dinner meal” ready when Davidson’s chemical whistle blew at 12 noon. I never saw her use a recipe and everything she cooked was fresh. She canned fresh vegetables in the summer.
This excerpt describing my great, great grandmother sounds awfully similar to Monday lunches at Alice and Amy’s and the way of life here on honey hill. Pre-pandemic times, Mondays were driven by “more the merrier” and “food is love” mantras offering the type of sanctuary grandparents provide to anyone who happens to stop by. As a close ally and attendant to the mission here, I feel my maternal line moving through me, giving new versions of materiality to my grandmothers’ spirits, aiding and abetting a weekly ritual of food communion.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another Julia, Julie actually, my mother. She’s an accomplished creative home cook, never ceasing to nail the seasoning and figure out a way to parlay the leftovers into a fresh form. She’s cooked delicious spreads for countless guests and held down the kitchen for many wild barbecues with a cornucopia of family, neighbors, childhood friends, and any stranger my dad strikes a conversation with. She’s got a library of crowd pleasing delights up her sleeve. And now she’s a grandmother, sharing the pleasure of food with her grandchildren. Here’s a photo of her squirting whipped cream into my nephew’s mouth to prove it.
My grandfather just turned 89 exactly two weeks ago on the 25th. I may continue to ask him to describe his grandmother’s peach cake till his last breath, because I’ll never grow tired of his enthusiasm. He’s always carrying his gratitude for this cake, the aroma of it cooling on the window sill, in his back pocket. It’s a little gift he can offer to brighten up the room.
My uncle Dave, who spends much of his time with my grandfather, kindly sent me a special package with a homemade gift I’d given my grandmother when I was a kid, evidenced by the liberal use of puffy paints. It was an apron I’d made her with a large golden sun framed by the words, “Always cooking on the bright side.” I had been thinking about her and of course, my grandfather as his birthday approached. I had also been in a sort of winter funk. Receiving this apron kinda turned things around for me, not right away but like the slow wafting of a peach cake memory, it got under my skin until I suddenly found myself swelling with respect for the greater working I am a part of in the kitchen. I get to help other people find sanctuary and glee, grandmother style, food as the pressure point. It’s a real honor.
The final word is on another Julia who I didn’t know personally but who’s style embodies the aforementioned role model goddesses of the kitchen, Julia Childs. Actually it may be this particular video that consolidates her wisdom atop a track of catchy beats and tantalizing foods. Pleasure making really is “what good cooking is all about.”
"Cooking, cooking, keep on cooking, this is the way to live!"
Carly lives and eats from a hilltop in Cummington, Massachsuetts and part time in Schenectady, NY.