Earlier this week, as I gathered my usual groceries, I had comfort foods in mind. I knew that we would be home for the weekend due to Coronavirus and possibly longer, depending on if my husband’s work unit asked his team to teleconference or not, and we’ve been experiencing sunny, but cold days. These things, as well as the fact that I’ve been re-reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, inspired me to bring home ingredients for a roast chicken with vegetables, cabbage and leeks for a St. Patrick’s Day meal, and enough other random produce to create any soup—carrots, celery, and onions will take you a long way to dinner!
Sunday morning after breakfast, my husband and I sit in the living room with our coffee. We watch the cats wrestle in the sunbeams on the carpet. We chat about future plans, current family events, and what we want to plant in our garden this summer. As the coffee cools and the day really begins, he asks me what I want to do today…and the answer is pretty much my standard reply. I love to cook on Sundays, when the lazy hours stretch before me in uninterrupted potential. I gather my supplies and let my mind fly.
Usually, I’ll listen to NPR, but the usual Sunday program didn’t fit my mood today, so instead I put in a Loreena McKinnett CD, “the book of secrets”, and begin on my chicken.
As I cut vegetables and apply the rub to the chicken, my mind wanders to my great-grandmother. Whenever I cook chickens on Sunday, I think of the stories my mom tells of the days of her childhood when her parents sent her and her two sisters to live for the summers with her grandmother in the mountains of West Virginia.
My great grandmother, Glennis Carter, lived in a mountain community so small that you didn’t bother with a house address when you sent her letters. She married young, and she and her husband were expecting their third daughter (my grandmother) when he was killed at 25 years old in a mining accident. Glennis never remarried, and raised her daughters alone while running a general store. Her life was hard and she struggled. But she also found joy. Every Sunday, she killed a chicken and the town gathered at her house for dinner. She was renowned for her cooking. Even when I was a child, when we went to visit, she still baked little individual pies for each of us—she knew each of our favorites.
I learned to cook by watching my mom, and she often shared stories of Grandma Carter on those occasions. They were her happiest memories of childhood, and I know that I was influenced by their simplicity: stories of swimming holes where kids swam with cattle on hot summer days; the one room school house that was open in the summer; my mom meeting her grandma after school to have a NeHi and a MoonPie on the front porch of the general store. Stories of my great-uncle Brooks, who went to the war and returned “shell-shocked”, became a hermit further up the mountain, and spent his days writing poetry. Stories of outhouse runs in the middle of the night.
These stories often remind me that much can be made with very little. Grandma Carter made abundance from whatever resources she had on hand. Brooks only came down from his cabin once or twice a year for supplies. People grew gardens and shared their bounty.
I chop carrots, and peel potatoes. I slice onions—tears pouring down my face, sensitive not only to their aroma but to the feelings bubbling up inside as I think about how much I have, of all the abundance that surrounds me everyday.
I don’t need to, but I start a pot of water boiling on the stove. I throw in the scraps of vegetables and spices that I’d normally throw away. The tops and ends of carrots and celery, a partial lemon, the potato peels, smaller stems of thyme and rosemary. A bay leaf and a knob of ginger. And, made from what we now could consider garbage because we are so bountifully blessed with grocery stores and restaurants, fridges and freezers overflowing, is a fragrant vegetable broth that I can use as a base for a more elaborate soup, or eat as it is.
My kitchen is filled with the smells of roasting chicken and bubbling broth. The CD begins to play a Scottish ballad, “The Highwayman”, bringing back memories of my own country childhood with my sisters, playing Anne of Green Gables. The sun shines through the windows, and the birds and groundhogs dance through the backyard on various missions of their own.
And I know, no matter what our future holds, there will always be Sunday supper, as long as we are able to look around us and find—then share—the bounty in what we have.