Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Food, Family, and Traditions, by Kathy Fischer-Brown

Food is a topic that, for me, needs little excuse. Not simply preparing and consuming food, but the occasions that have food at their center. And there is no better time to discuss the sharing of good food with family and friends than at holiday time.

While attempting to organize my computer this past week, I happened on a slew of videos. Actually they are converted home movies from my late father’s collection of 8 mm film from the late 1930s when my parents started dating to the 1980s when video supplanted celluloid for recording memories. It was a trip down Memory Lane in many ways, filled with a few tears and laughs, and also a time to appreciate where my love of cooking and baking came from.

There were my grandparents looking young, slim and hardly gray-haired. I quickly did the math and realized I was watching images that were 70 years old or more, which meant that my grandparents were a good 25 years younger than I am today. Back in those days my parents, a few lifelong friends, along with cousins, aunts and uncles all converged on my grandparents’ large Bronx apartment. Invariably, there were scenes of overflowing tables, smiling faces, the special cake…and the women all in full aprons.

My gram was renowned as a good cook. Her brisket was legendary. It was always a treat to arrive at their place greeted by the warm aroma of chicken soup and even warmer feelings of having the family assemble for an event of sorts. My mom and aunt would always lend a hand and we kids would amuse ourselves until time came to dig in at the table.

Over the years, after my family moved from The Bronx to Long Island, our house or the cousins’ alternated at being the epicenter of our culinary gatherings. My mom was a great cook, often replicating in her own kitchen what she’d learned from her mother. She didn’t “experiment” much back then, but after we moved to Connecticut, her talent for throwing sumptuous dinner parties took hold. My sisters and I would help out in the spacious kitchen, mostly chopping this or peeling that, but as we were then in our teens and tweens, food preparation was not at the top of our priority list.

By the time my parents retired to Florida, my mother’s skills had blossomed into the awesome category. Long before that, when I was a new bride and my husband and I moved away for a while to teach at a college in Indiana, I often asked my mom how she made certain dishes. She sent me recipes, some in her impeccable script, others typed on office memo sheets, which I still have tucked away into my first and still favorite cookbook. 

Over the years, as distance separated me from sisters and cousins, and the older generation passed on, cooking became a passion, a way to maintain a hold on the past and a link between those of us who remain. We no longer spend our holidays, birthdays, and other celebratory occasions in those large joyful gatherings of my childhood. We have scattered over distances that make such get-togethers impossible. My two kids are grown, and there’s a grandson, and my sisters have their own families. But when we do get together for whatever reason, the highlight of the visit invariably involves the preparation of an incredible meal, riffing on an old favorite or discovering something new.

The only things missing are those cool aprons.


Kathy Fischer-Brown writes historical novels for Books We Love, Ltd. To find out more about Kathy and her books, please visit at: www.kfischer-brown.com