Well, today is officially the last day of Vegan Month of Food, and the end of my first month blogging here on Stumbling Towards Ahimsa. Rest assured that I'll continue to talk about food and cooking after today, and there'll be more recipes and so forth, but now that the MoFo has flown, I'll be expanding the subject matter here to include health, body image, veganism, movement practices, and my own personal work to live a compassionate life both towards others and towards myself.
I hope everyone has enjoyed it!
Today is Samhain, the Pagan harvest festival that honors our ancestors and beloved dead. Since I've been thinking so much about cooking and food this past month, naturally my thoughts have turned to my two grandmothers, both of whom have been gone from this Earthwalk for over a decade.
My paternal grandmother was old even when I was a child. She was a quiet, serious woman, not given to a lot of laughter or noise, and she was a painter as well as a consummate homemaker. She and my grandfather tended an enormous garden behind their house, and he kept bees; they also had fig trees, pecan trees, and a pear tree (I didn't get a lot of pears, unfortunately, as to reach them you had to walk way too close to the beehives).
Every year my whole family was drafted into the garden harvest. Grandma grew green beans, okra, cauliflower, carrots, peppers, squash of at least three types, strawberries, cucumbers, corn, cabbage, and my favorite--potatoes. If you ever get the chance to dig potatoes, take it! We put on our old clothes and slogged barefoot into the rows of earth, then spent hours digging out mud-clotted potatoes by hand, hosing them off, and chucking them into five-gallon buckets. I loved every filthy minute. My mother was something of a clean freak with me on a normal day, but when we were out in Grandma's garden I could get as dirty as I liked, and boy did I. I can still remember pawing through the mud and feeling out red-skinned gems, and stealing one or two tiny ones to eat raw, just as I did with the carrots. Grandma grew the sweetest carrots I've ever had in my life.
Then came "putting things up." Grandma pickled cucumbers and okra; she canned beans; she made ketchup from the umpteen million tomatoes. We made fig preserves and spent hours shelling pecans. Every weekend it seemed there was something to slice, peel, or crack open. The counters of her kitchen were lined with sunlit jars of everything from figs in strawberry sugar syrup to honey with the comb still in, sweet pickles to Polish dills. Her stove ran over with good things to eat: potato soup, fried squash, gumbo, pecan pies.
The year after she died Mom tried to keep the garden going, but it was just too much work without Grandma, so after that, the endless rows of green growing things faded into the past. The fig trees still grow, however, and every year Mom makes fig preserves--unfortunately I don't like figs so it's a bit lost on me, but every time I smell them cooking in that gigantic pot of Grandma's on Mom's stove, it takes me back to being nine years old, shucking my church clothes to go dig potatoes and pluck tomatoes from the vine.
My mother's mother lived in the city, so gardening wasn't really her thing; she grew a row of tomato plants every year, but for the most part her preferred method of harvest involved fishing at Lake Livingston and shopping at Kroger. I remember every year when the Texas 1015 onions started appearing in stores, she'd buy a huge sackful and hang them in old pairs of pantyhose in the garage, tying a knot between each gigantic amber bulb so she could just snip one off the bottom when she needed one. She was a baker--she taught me to love cheesecake, and was known for her Southern recipes: applesauce cake, orange slice cake made with those crazy sugar-coated orange candies, jalapeno cornbread, sweetened years rolls, and pecan-studded fudge. I remember her fried green tomatoes and her skillet potatoes with sliced onions.
Most of all I remember Christmases at her house when that entire side of the family gathered, casseroles and desserts in tow. My cousin and I would hide out in one of the bedrooms and play with his Star Wars action figures and my My Little Ponies, until our grandmother called everyone to the kitchen where table after table was covered in food.
I suppose this is part of the reason why almost every ass in my family looks like two pigs fighting under a blanket.
My family is German in heritage, and I grew up in a town full of Czech immigrants, so holidays to me involved kolaches, strudel, pigs in blankets, and sausage on a stick. Granted I don't do the latter two anymore, but one of these days I'm going to get a copy of my sister-in-law's mother's kolache recipe and veganize it. We even made kolaches and pigs in my high school Food Science class.
I'm not very good with plants; it seems like such a sad irony that a Witch would have a black thumb, doesn't it? But I've always said that if I ever have a house with a yard (and a hot gardener in tight jeans, of course) I'd grow a garden in my Grandma's honor (with tomatoes for my Mamaw). Then I'd roll up my pants legs, take off my shoes, and go get muddy digging potatoes with my bare feet, just for her.
To quote my paternal grandmother: "Life is short and Jesus loves you. Have some more pie."
And to quote my maternal grandmother: "This, too, shall pass. Now, pass the vodka."
A blessed Samhain to all.