Top | Gone Walkabout

You can go home again

(post, Tiffanie McCoy)

I'm about to go stay with my parents for a couple of weeks, and for me, my parent's home is always about the food. I have plenty of non-food memories, but somehow it is the memories of making food, eating food, and growing food that defines my childhood.

My mother is French, but that doesn't mean she was born in the food tradition. She was born during the second world war in Paris, and having known her mother, she did not learn to cook at home! Rather, she chose to learn it as a young adult. She embraced the back-to-nature culture of the US when she moved here in the early seventies; as a child, I watched her take classes in gardening and livestock and dyeing wool, participate in spinning and knitting circles, and become a farmer. As the eldest, I went along for the ride and picked up a love of food and crafts.

I'm grateful for my childhood experiences. There was no shame over eating fatty foods, they were celebrated as delicious (I often ate toast slathered with butter and shaved chocolate after school, mmm). I helped prepare meals, especially on weekends, and in high school my brother and I were often assigned Sunday dinner as our responsibility. I saw the entire process of raising animals and plants for food, which still informs my respect for fresh food.

But I'm not thinking of all that as I anticipate my mother's delicious huge lunches! She follows the tradition in France of having a large lunchtime meal, to be followed by a rest. There will be cheeses and baguettes and a salad of whatever is in season, an apple tart at the end and cold pears, wine throughout and a big main course. At the start will be an appetizer, perhaps cornichons and pate. The meal I always request specially is her cassoulet. It is a traditional French stew of white beans and duck and sausage. Not vegetarian! But it's a special case for me, because it says home to me and makes my mother so happy to have it appreciated. She adds an unusual number of carrots and some tomato paste to it, which is a variation I really love.

So I pack, and avoid thinking about the long flight with two small children, and dream about my first bite of cassoulet at a table surrounded by family.