Written by Beth Albright
As a Southerner, I’ve always known that food and love are one and the same. My grandmothers both knew this secret and, as we do down South, passed that bit of magic down to future generations, the same as with our stories. Memories and shared recipes all get wrapped and tied with ribbon in faded, stained cookbooks. I am lucky enough to own one of these homemade treasures, and the pages literally spill over as all that love seeps from the binding. Food is at the very heart of all we do. From funerals to weddings, Easter to Christmas, and every football tailgate in between, we just know—food is the very soul of life here.
A Southern springtime sits onstage, awaiting the rise of the gray velvet curtain of winter, and like the orchestra below, bursts into sudden overture with a thrill. Blooming dogwoods that remind us of renewal dot the fragrant, lush landscape, framed by the scalloped edges of soft pink camellias and blanketed by the fresh air in the surprise afternoon rain-shower. In my childhood, spring arrived with the magnolia blossoms my grandmother set in bowls of water on the kitchen table and the divine fare of deviled eggs. Her ambrosia kept us joyful for the season of green and the new life that came with it.
Both of my grandmothers loved a springtime feast. There was no such thing as too much food, or too many guests for that matter. It’s part of our heritage to feed people, especially from our own backyard gardens. Secret recipes are truly all part of any family tapestry, but in my family, the idea of cooking skipped a generation: My sweet mother simply missed the food memo.
As my grandmothers would fill the table with perfectly buttered mashed potatoes, asparagus in homemade hollandaise, seven-layer salad, mouth-watering buttermilk biscuits, and, of course, the ambrosia, coconut cake, and banana pudding, my mother would arrive to the table with her “perfectly” blackened ham. Mother always said her oven never worked quite right, but what I grew to understand was that she was much more interested in the other things the beautiful Southern springtime brought—her chance to work in the yard, plant her flowers, and get her tiny hands dirty in the red soil.
She was most at home when she was helping things grow—from flowers to my brother and me, and all of our friends. We had the house that was everyone’s other home. We had the hangout house, because my mother welcomed everyone—maybe not with cupcakes fresh from the oven, but with her unconditional love. Love helps things grow just as much as the nourishment from the decadent food we share at the family table.
Mother always loved with the fierceness of a mama bear—she loved us with her late-night sewing, by doing homework with us, by listening to our prayers every single night. And that was food enough. Love enough.
Springtime brings a special life to things down South: life in the afternoon thunderstorms, life in the perfumed air, scented with every blossom known to man, life in the thick wet humidity that settles in with the evening sunsets, and life in the kitchens and dining rooms filled with laughter and love as we gather to welcome the season of renewal. It’s about food, joy, and family—and on some elegant dining room tables, the occasional burned ham, made with love from someone who nurtures in other ways.
What is your favorite memory of Spring?