My (Food) Story

I was recently reading The Earth Knows My Name by Patricia Klindienst. In it, she discusses how her family’s food customs and culture are intertwined. She talks about her memories of family dinners. It got me to thinking about my history.

I grew up with gardening as something that we just did. My grandmother, who had taken 5 children through the Depression as a single mom, grew something – even if it was a tomato plant – everyplace she lived until she was in her mid-80s. She also canned whatever she had extra.

My first foray into agriculture was when I was 3. I must have heard about growing corn in a lesson at nursery school, and wanted to grow some. My dad turned over a patch of yard, maybe 6’ x 6’, and we planted corn. I remember that square and how tall it was (to me). Then one night, a terrific rain storm hit. The next morning my corn was flattened to the ground. A crop failure.

When we lived in California, the only way we could continue eating our customary Southern foods was to grow them. I remember fried green tomatoes and okra that we grew in the back yard. Black-eyed peas, too. We always had cornbread the day before Thanksgiving so mother could make cornbread stuffing for the turkey.

And, since my father had graduated with a degree in animal husbandry and later earned a masters in agronomy, agriculture was a part of our lives. We lived in the (small) city, but he was a county extension agent. It was not uncommon for a farmer to drop by with excess produce that hadn’t sold in his stand that day. I learned to eat fruit and vegetables that were not perfect in appearance. And I remember the farmer saying that he wouldn’t eat corn that was more than a few hours old – that the taste just didn’t last.

Or my dad would come home with a box of oranges or avocados, a gift from a farmer. We had fresh-squeezed orange juice each morning for a while.

One place we lived, the farmer down the road had a cow that gave lots of milk. I developed a taste for fresh, raw milk. And fresh churned butter.

When I was in college in Davis, California, I’d bicycle out to the fields outside town in the spring to pick mustard, then call a friend from Mississippi; she’d come over and we’d cook up a mess of greens, with cornbread, and feast. I introduced fried okra to lots of friends while at Davis!

I grew up on fresh food, so it was little wonder that when I had a chance I had a garden – even if it was a large planter box on my patio.