Recipes from Mom
“No mean woman can cook well, for it calls for a light head, a generous spirit, and a large heart.” Paul Gauguin
This is the forward elegantly written in my mother’s hand inside the soft chocolate leather bound book of family recipes. They are memories really, collected by my mother and carefully inscribed, one to a page, each new chapter etched with a prayer. Saying Grace is just an old fashioned way of intoning a blessing, or saying a prayer over a meal. When I opened the Christmas gift from my mother several years ago, I was just as excited to find her treasured recipes, like the one for her mother’s Cornbread Dressing and Sour Cream Pound Cake, as I was to discover her thoughtful collection of blessings to be said before the meal.
This book of recipes tells its own story; A story of the importance of food in my family where the starring role goes to an old, beaten french oak table in the center of the family kitchen where every year we seem to find room for another chair, and the holy ritual of saying grace is repeated before the first bread is ever broken! I am not sure if I gleaned the significance of the meal as sacramental growing up around the table every night with my five sisters, mother and father, or if it has more to do with that holy of holiest meals shared over 2,000 years ago with Jesus and his friends. Regardless, every time people join together around a table, whether for turkey and dressing or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, we welcome the divinely-inspired ingredients for holiness. When we break bread with one, or in the case of my family of 33, what appears on the outside as nothing more than another Thanksgiving meal becomes intimately and mysteriously sacramental.
When I flip through the White family tome of recipes, the lines of my mouth curl up reminiscing about Barbara’s buttermilk biscuits, my mom’s buttery sour cream pound cake (which she would butter and then toast for our breakfast the next morning!), and the tried-and-true South Carolina recipe for Frogmore Stew. But mainly I smile because I know my soul was nurtured far more than my belly with the ingredients of love, laughter, gratitude, and joy, the true requisites for any memorable gustatory meal! However, I fear we have lost the art of saying grace, blessing these sacred “breaking bread” moments of our lives. Do we take the moment to bow our heads in Thanksgiving for the food, our loved ones (even the most difficult and curmudgeonly), and most importantly for the presence of God that takes a seat at our Table whether we acknowledge Him or not?
The truth be told, in our over-scheduled, busy, scarily-secular lives, we have removed the sacramental power found in the breaking of bread. I have been known to rush through a blessing or two, or even pass the duty off to a child or my husband, missing the opportunity to stop and recognize the holy moment for what it is. The act of breaking bread in communion with loved ones and even strangers has this mystical way, power really, of feeding not just our bodies, but our very souls.
I have a friend that starts every single day by scribbling on old grocery receipts or scraps of paper, whatever is at hand in the moment, three things that she is thankful for in her life. She claims there is no other way to live. Without active gratitude, our lives become swallowed up by self-pity, fear, resentment, and little joy. I have found that often it is the people in the greatest tangles of suffering, that “say grace” the best. Somehow they know that the plate before them, the people beside them, and their beating heart is cause enough for thanks. When will we learn that it is when we bless, that we receive blessings, when we give thanks, that we experience thanksgiving! One of my very favorite authors and priests, Barbara Brown Taylor, said it best, “The most ordinary things are drenched in divine possibility. Pronouncing blessings upon them is the least we can do.”
The art of saying grace is a simple thank you. No sweaty palms or knocking knees under the table. Saying grace is not just for the collared. God empowers us to be priests inside our own lives, pronouncing blessings from our humble and often imperfect altars, to remind us that God is present among us! These simple words of gratitude can be whispered in silence before your fork takes its first stab through the marshmallow sweet potato soufflé, or they can be said aloud, sanctifying the Thanksgiving meal for all. Saying Grace only promises to move us closer into the presence of God, and from what I can tell, that is where all blessings flow.
In this spirit of Thanksgiving, I offer you a blessing from the hand and heart of Karen White, my mother!
Come Heavenly Father,
Our Guest to be,
And bless all Thy Gifts bestowed on thee.
Bless our loved ones everywhere.
And keep them in Thy tender care.
We thank Thee, Father, for this food.
That we may now bless and honor this day.
Live in Hope,