Case in point:
I was in a fancy Atlanta china slash cookware store a few years back. I took my purchases (which included a beautiful china tea cup and saucer for Edna Lewis) to the register and handed over my credit card. The woman at the register squinted at the name, looked at me and said, "do you know there is another Liz Lorber in Atlanta? She gives participation cooking classes and she's a great caterer."
Fool that I am, I just nodded and said something inane like, "oh really?" WTF, Liz? Guess I just didn't look the part. (Of course, I sometimes dress like a homeless person and don't always sport a lot of make-up so maybe it was one of those days). I will confess to a silent chuckle as I played along and feigned amazement that there was another Liz Lorber in Atlanta who was a cooking instructor and caterer!
I have never felt the need to "put myself out there." So in that spirit, I have never made a big deal about our friendship with Edna Lewis. I write about it now only because I think it is important to keep her memory alive.
Just another family dinner....
Edna meant a lot to us. We didn't care that she was an icon or a national treasure. She was just someone we knew and loved. She was a dear friend and we mourn her passing to this day. Here's what I wrote upon her passing:
We were lucky enough to have known her for almost 20 years. We loved her. She loved us back. Even in her declining years, she never failed to ask me “how are the boys?” Somehow, the well-being of my sons was important to her. Maybe it was because she met them when they were very young. Maybe it was because she knew she helped shape their lives.
In our kitchen
One of my best memories is walking into my kitchen in the early 90’s. My son, Andy (then about 12) was knee-deep in flour, with an intense and serious look on his face. He was absolutely intent upon conquering the task at hand. That task? Pie crust. His teacher? Edna Lewis. The two of them spent almost three hours rolling and re-rolling pie crusts, abandoning the quest for perfection only when she gently told him it was time to stop. But, he didn’t. He continued to practice, practice, practice (as she told him to do) until he could finally make a good pie crust. To this day he loves to bake and is a serious home cook. Here is the recipe she wrote out for him on a lined yellow pad:
Henry’s favorite memory of Edna is actually one “from back in the day” and follows in his own words:
“When Edna arrived for the Southern Chef’s event in 1995, I was the designated dishwasher and quail egg peeler. When there were no longer eggs to be shelled, in an attempt to humor me, she took it upon herself to teach me how to make Cats' Tongue cookies. As a non-food person, other than as a consumer, I was a total novice when it came to the fine art of making cookies.
Rather than try to make me into a Master Chef, she elected to teach me a simple task in the hope that I would be able to conquer and appreciate it. Both of us were proud of my success with the cookies, and for the next twenty years of our friendship, we constantly kidded one another about who made the better Cats' Tongues.
The real lesson here was that Edna Lewis appreciated each of us for what we were able to achieve. For many of us, her friendship and love were what we cherished most. To many, her passing is the loss of the Doyenne of Southern Cooking. To some of us, however, the loss is much greater. She was a loving, supportive member of our extended family and her loss is incredibly personal. God bless her and keep her.”
Edna’s impact on our family was significant. At one point, my mother lived in the apartment directly below Scott (Peacock) and Edna’s. She and Edna became unlikely friends. Mom recalls the day they were outside, planting flowers by the creek. They finished and came inside to Mom’s apartment to wash their hands and clean up a bit. Mom offered Edna a drink and before they knew it, there they were, just like old friends – Edna with her Jack Black and Mom with her white wine – sitting around, talking.
There were braised pork chops cooking away on the stove. Eventually the aroma overpowered the conversation and my mom’s fear of cooking for the great Edna Lewis faded in light of the fact that they were both very hungry (and probably a little tipsy). They shared a wonderful meal that night and many more in the months to come. In fact, my mom always kept a bottle of Jack Black just for Edna. She even got over her fear of cooking for her!
A few of the notes she wrote to us - treasured memories
Another memory is of the independent Edna who always insisted on wearing high heels. When she lived in Virginia Highlands, it was a daily occurrence for her to walk to the neighboring Kroger on Ponce … in those high heels. She was so elegant and so very beautiful and of course, nothing else would do. She held court as she walked on Ponce and as she entered Kroger. It wasn't intentional, it was just what evolved from her presence. It was amazing to behold.
However, Scott and I were terrified she might fall. We expressed this to her and she basically told us to go to hell (though not in those words, as she was too much the lady). Still, we worried. I finally convinced her to go shopping with me so we could buy her sneakers and sweat pants for walking. ( what was I thinking - Edna Lewis in sneakers and sweats?????) We went to Mervyn’s and she was appropriately appreciative as I bought her shoes, sweat pants and the like. She even thanked me. But of course, she never wore any of it. She just kept on walking to Kroger in those high heels.
Edna was an amazing woman with an amazing presence. It's hard to believe she is gone, but she isn’t, really. She is in our hearts and is still very much alive for me and for my family. We are humbled to have been, even in a small way, a part of her life.
CATS' TONGUE COOKIES (from Edna Lewis' "The Edna Lewis Cookbook")
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 cup heavy cream
Whites of 2 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 400-degrees.
Rub 2 cookie sheets with sweet butter. Sift both the flour and the powdered sugar before measuring. Combine the flour, sugar and ginger; sift together.
Place a cookie sheet close to the bowl of batter. Dip in a dinner knife and give the knife a turn, which should gather about a good teaspoon of the batter onto the blade. Strike a mark on the cookie sheet and end it with a thin line. It should form a cookie about 2 1/2-inches long.
Remove from the oven and let them cool for 2 or 3 minutes. Then slip a thin spatula carefully under each cookie, removing them before they cool too much and harden to the cookie sheet. (If this happens, set them back into the oven for 2 or 3 minutes more to soften).
Place the cookies on a wire rack, and when they have cooled, store them in an airtight tin.
Yield: about 4 dozen
Here's to you, Miss Edna. May your memory live on forever.