Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Julie's Gift

I am a new blogger and I don't quite get how to incorporate "guest posts." So I am going to type out this by hand. It's long and there isn't a "recipe" but it is an amazing story. Please take few minutes out of your day to read it. It brought tears to my eyes when I read it. Here is Julie Ferguson's story:

"Some of my earliest and best memories are of visits to Mamaw's house in Athens TN. They meant lots of hugs, delicious food and a nighttime snack of frozen chocolate chips. I still remember how excited I was when my grandmother moved from Athens to my hometown, Maryville, because that meant I was going to get to see her all the time.

Alma (Mamaw) was born in Decatur, TN and grew up in Etowah. She learned to cook from her mother and spent a good deal of time in the kitchen with her four sisters. Mamaw married Raymond Ferguson and had three boys. The family lived on a farm for several years. Mamaw used to share stories with me of canning for the winter and keeping three growing boys well-fed. My father always talks about the homemade french fries she would make for him when he was a teenager. She is a legend in our family for her food.

Once Mamaw had moved to Maryville, my sister and I used to call her and ask her to cook for us all the time. Whenever it was someone's birthday, we did not want to go to a restaurant. We wanted to go to Mamaw's house. She would make fried chicken, mashed potatoes, fried zucchini, corn on the cob, salad, cornbread, iced tea and pecan pie. My eyes were always bigger than my stomach, but I was determined to eat as much as possible of my favorite foods.

Mamaw was the type of cook who did everything by feel; she did not write anything down. So when my father and I were trying to learn how to make her dishes, we would just watch her and try it ourselves. My dad mastered the fried zucchini and cornbread and helped teach me.

My grandmother would only use Three Rivers cornmeal and Mayfield buttermilk. That's all you need. Put some corn oil in the bottom of the skillet and let it heat in the oven as it preheats to 400-degrees. Whe the oil is hot, pour in the cornmeal and buttermilk mixture and cook until the top is a nice light brown. You use the same process for fried zucchini. Mamaw would combine okra and zucchini, toss in cornmeal, pour into the skillet and cook for 45 minutes to an hour.

When I was moving to Atlanta, Mamaw wanted me to be able to make southern food for myself, so she gave me two of her cast iron skillets. They had been seasoned for years and are now treasured possessions of mine. The skillets traveled with me when I moved to New York. I could not find Three Rivers cornmeal in New York, so I ordered it online and had it delivered to me. I've also made her pecan pie and it is the only written recipe I have from my grandmother.

I have been friends with the Lorbers for a couple of years now. When I went to Kiawah two years ago, I enjoyed sitting in the kitchen while Liz and Andy cooked, talking about food and family. When I was trying to think of a gift I could bring to Kiawah this year to show my appreciation for the Lorber's hospitality, I remembered a story my grandmother told me. When she was traveling with her husband and friends to both Hawaii and New York, Mamaw took her skillet and Three Rivers cornmeal with her. She wanted to cook for herself; she felt it was just never the same in a restaurant.

So I decided to bring her skillet to Kiawah, as I knew it would be as meaningful to Liz as it is to me.

Mamaw passed away at the beginning of last year. It was very hard for me, but I have so many beautiful memories of her. And each time I cook, I feel close to her again."

If there is anything I have learned by starting a blog, then it's that you have to share stories. Julie's story is one of the most meaningful to me. It incorporates food, family and the passing on of recipes and life. Amen.

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