Food Memories Straight From My Father's Garden

What's your favorite childhood food memory? Was it getting a McDonald's cake for your Birthday every year? Maybe it was the homemade potato soup that a dear neighbor lady made when you were sick and instead of going to school you got to stay home and watch Days Of Our Lives with her. I would bet half the kids growing up in Joplin, MO would say their favorite childhood food memory had something to do with Aggie's cafe.

Most of my food memories begin with my Dad. He kept a huge garden and beehives. We butchered our own cows and pigs every year. With all of those resources I was spoiled rotten and never knew it. Our food was truly organic, hormone/antibiotic free, and homegrown before any of those were culinary buzzwords. All of this took work to maintain and my Dad employed his two little daughters and incredibly willing wife to make use of the daylight.

My Dad is also the one that encouraged my obsession with food. Before VCRs, DVRs, or the internet existed we would sit with notebooks in front of the TV watching episodes of Yan Can Cook and The Galloping Gourmet. When the recipes would scroll at the end we would divide up the lines to copy between us. More often than not, we wouldn't get them all transcribed and would have to write in to the show and have them mail us the recipes. 

One of my clearest childhood food impressions is my Dad's homemade teriyaki sauce. I can still taste the sting of freshly grated ginger, the sweetness of the brown sugar, and the aggressive salt from the soy sauce, all combined and providing an overnight marinade bath for chicken, it was true harmony. (Hey, DaddySam, will you send me a copy of that recipe please?)

Food memories have value because they are the blueprint for what we will feed our children and cook for our husbands and wives. They are part of our family history. My sister and I could win green chili eating contests. It's who we are, half Hispanic kids growing up eating Mexican food in the tradition of our Mom's relatives in Colorado. 

Yes, food is fuel, but it is a direct link to so many things-the earth, nature, water, prairies, and FAMILY. Food memories are emotional anchors tethering us to our ancestors. Some days I would give anything to be that Midwest kid again who had garden chores with my Dad. We would harvest tomatoes, shuck corn, and sit on the porch and hull peas. Then we would go inside and make his favorite meal consisting of only those 3 ingredients. That's what his Mom, Ora K. Adams, made for him and it remains his best-loved dish.

I invite you to share your family food history with whomever sits at your dinner table these days. Tell a story, cook a meal, or buy an ingredient that reminds you of your childhood. It's an opportunity to connect your past with the present and involve your loved ones. Pay tribute to the people that put food on your table and honor the recipes from that time. Perhaps dinnertime won't be such a task if you engage your children in stories from when you were the stubborn little eater resisting new things. Maybe you will discover a way to update an ingredient or technique. I've added a few touches to the recipe below. I doubt this little guy will mind.

Black Eyed Peas with Heirloom Tomatoes and Corn

Serves 4

  • 3 cups cooked black eyed peas (these are available in a can but dried peas are incredibly easy to cook and cheaper too! I simmer them in vegetable stock for more flavor.)
  • 8 ears corn, cut off of the cob, sauteed in 2 Tblsp butter for 1 minute, stirring
  • 4 heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 Tsp white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tblsp fresh thyme leaves

To make individual plates, make a bed with 3/4 cup of the peas. Alternating colors, arrange tomatoe slices on top, then scatter the corn over the tomatoes. Generously season with salt and pepper. Drizzle the vinegar over everything and sprinkle with the thyme leaves.