If there is one thing I love to learn about others, it is their preferences for and memories involving food. I’ve shared much of my history with food and cooking in this space already but this month, The Recipe Redux asked us to stir up some of our earliest culinary recollections.
Instead of rehashing how it all began, I’m reposting a very slightly edited version of what I wrote then with a little note about this month’s recipe at the end.
“Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question of whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you.” – Letters to a Young Poet, Rainier Maria Rilke The truth is, the beginning is blurry. When I squint back into the depths of my childhood, my thoughts were not long off of food. I would take cookbooks to bed at night, scrunching my eyes into the flashlight-shadows, long after my sister had demanded I put our shared, bunk-bedded room into darkness. Looking back at the shy, quiet, anxious little person that I was then, I recall only that I felt most at home in the kitchen. I still do. It began then, I think, with playdough. My mom mixed up homemade playdough. I remember seeing the recipe on a worn index card in her gray metal recipe box, a box that to this day holds her most cherished recipes. There were two recipes in that box that were beyond intriguing to my child-mind: elephant ears and playdough. The first was something that I had never considered could be made outside of a hot, steamy, trailer-kitchen at the county fair. The second was the only non-food recipe that I’ve ever known my mom to have on hand. I must have asked her, and she mixed up a batch for us. I don’t remember much after beyond the whirl of the mixer blades, and the fact that my mom brought me into the kitchen, handed me the measuring cups, and taught me fractions. From that moment when I learned to turn on the mixer, to scoop flour into the measuring cups, to follow recipe instructions, up to now, nearly 20 years later, I’ve been most at home in any place surrounded by food. It fascinates me in its cultural symbolism, use as a socio-economic tool and weapon, as a medicine to heal, as a draw to family gatherings and entire holiday celebrations, and most importantly, in its most simple form as basic sustenance for the hunger in all of us. In those simple childhood days, those most-remembered foods symbolize the dearly loved and oft-hated. My favorites from that gray box included our neighbor’s recipe for honey-cinnamon swirl rolls, my mom’s homemade bread, and leftover-oatmeal cookies with just the right amount of spice. There was my favorite breakfast, dad’s “stinkbug porridge”, which was a simple concoction of raisins and brown sugar. And then the fresh milk from our cow, Betsy, with flakes of cream floating amongst my morning cheerios. I had to plug my nose to get the milk down after staying an extra hour at the table gathering the resolve to drink it. Now looking back, I realize what a precious experience to have been raised in a place where our milk came right from the cow. In this new season and new beginning of sorts, I am reminded of how I am drawn to food as a means of communication and connection. I am reminded of the beginning, how I learned in the kitchen with my mom and the whirl of the blender blades that are still in her cupboard today. I am reminded that food is special, and that when I go into myself, as Rilke suggests, the only answer I come back with is, yes, I must create. Though I no longer enjoy thick slices of my mom’s bread, or partake in flecks of cream floating in cow’s milk, I hold in my heart and in my cooking a focus on good, simple, nourishing food, in whatever way it can be most enjoyed. I am looking forward to this season to come, and the creations it will bring.
Now tell me, what is one of your first memories in the kitchen?
Blackberry Crumble, serves 4-6
As I indicated above, I began creating with baked goods, and having grown up in an area rich with agriculture and with grandparents that often brought fruit from their own or nearby orchards, baking frequently involved fruit. Crumbles or crisps were an often chosen and easily made dessert that were devoured in a matter of spoonfuls. This one involves blackberries because today happens to be a special someone’s birthday and William requests blackberry desserts annually (or one of its many cousins in the form of boysen or marionberries). Hence, a late September blackberry recipe makes its way into this space nearly every year.
For this recipe, there are a couple options in the way of sweetening and using the oil. For the berries, opt for one tablespoon honey if you’re working on limiting sugar consumption, or don’t tend to eat much sugar, like me. If on the other hand, you do eat sugary sweets regularly, like William, opt for two tablespoons honey and you’ll likely be a little more satisfied. Likewise, we tend to find coconut oil a bit too overpowering in crumbles and pies (even refined coconut oil), and prefer a more neutral flavored oil like canola instead so the blackberry flavor can shine through. I know some particularly like the coconut flavor, so if that’s more your speed, opt for coconut oil instead.
4 cups fresh or frozen blackberries
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1-2 Tbs. honey (see notes)
2 cups rolled oats, gluten-free if necessary
6 Tbs. sorghum flour
1/4 cup canola oil or melted coconut oil (see notes)
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the berries in a baking dish and toss with vanilla, lemon juice and honey.
- Prepare the crumble in a separate bowl. Start by mixing oats, sorghum flour, salt and vanilla.
- Then add the canola or melted coconut oil and honey. Use a spoon or your hands to mix until combined. With your fingers, crumble the filling evenly over the berries.
- Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until the fruit juices are bubbling around the edges and the topping is golden brown.