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Oh, Immortal Food!

22 Dec Posted by in Jewelle Gomez | 1 comment
Oh, Immortal Food!

I became a writer for several reasons.  Originally it was so I could meet girls, but I’m married now and Diane is not that interested in me bringing fans home!  Then there’s being a part of progressive social change.  I grew up in the 1960s when poetry and revolution were intrinsically linked. Going through the day without thinking about changing the world—even if it’s only in a short story—is constitutionally impossible.

The third reason is probably the most common for writers:  I don’t want to be forgotten.  Who does?  That’s why taggers make the city so ugly with their secret scrawls; that’s why rich men give money to have theatres and hospital wings named after them; that’s why actors risk stepping out on a stage or in front of a camera.

It has recently occurred to me that there are more effective and less time consuming ways to assure being immortal.  I’ve come to believe we’ll be remembered by our recipes.  Maybe the holiday season brings it out but every thing I cook is attached to some relative or friend.  Remembering the preparations or eating something together with people I love makes me feel fantastic; it also gives me the table of contents for a book of recipes.  You could do your own. Take a stroll through the memories of the good folks and food in your life; it’s guaranteed to make your day go better.

When I was in elementary school I always went to my best friend, Irene’s, house where we’d fry half a loaf of Wonder Bread in a pan of butter to munch while we watched our soap operas and American Bandstand.  Every once and I while, I must have it; usually when I’m not feeling well. As I snack I can still hear Irene laughing or see her popping up to dance to her favorite song.

I probably couldn’t include that in a recipe book so I’d start with my great grandmother Grace’s oyster & bread turkey stuffing. I used to take it to school on a sandwich w/cranberry sauce and was both the target of jokes for ‘bread sandwiches’ and the source of envy.  My stepmother, Henrietta gave me her recipe for baked macaroni and cheese (the one reason to buy Velveeta) over the phone 25 years ago and I make at least once a year. Our nephews, Jeffrey and Matthew, always requested it when they came home from college and Matt says he wants to learn to make it this year.

I’ll never forget the winter holiday I spent with my mother and stepfather when they bought the largest turkey known to human kind.  Post holiday I was staying longer than usual since I was unemployed so I watched my stepfather make: turkey steaks, turkey croquets, and turkey hash, none of which I’d ever had. I could make any them at any time right now and remember how proud he was of his culinary versatility.

Whenever I eat popcorn I think of my friends Sandra and Marianne and how we popped corn when watching movies at their house.  They added mysterious condiments from what looked like apothecary jars so it was always a gastronomic adventure.  In the 1980s—when folks working in theatre all lived on the same dollar loaned out again and again—Sandy Ross used to make the best three bean (no meat) chili on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Arlene Wysong, my dear old friend who left us too early, used to make a huge pot of sausage and rice with mysterious spices for post production parties and provided only chopsticks.  It was both avant garde and cheap when you knew 100 people would show up.  I had my first fresh ground peanut butter (on everything) at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival and my first watercress sandwich at Ellie Cabot’s house.  For almost two decades for Turkey Day my friend Denise De Jean has made the creamiest sweet potato pie on either coast.

Literature, it turns out, has been just as good for cooking as it was for meeting girls: One Easter Sunday, playwright Marty Pottenger and I spent the entire day making Beef Wellington…just because.  She was brave and patient, something I’ll never forget even if I never eat Beef Wellington again. Cheryl Clarke has this way she melts the cheese first before she adds the scrambled eggs that is as phenomenal and tasty as her poetry.  Another poet, Marilyn Hacker, and former owner of Womanbooks (NYC), Karen London, taught me how to make latkes before there was such a thing as a Cuisinart.  Novelist, Dorothy Allison’s red velvet cake has never been beat by any restaurant.

My spouse, Diane, is a breakfast maker.  Her egg scrambles created from everything from the fridge make eating breakfast out redundant even in a brunch town like San Francisco.  Put it together with my corn bread (with corn) and not a bad legacy I say!

Jewelle Gomez is the author of 7 books including the lesbian vampire classic novel, The Gilda Stories.  Her new play about James Baldwin will be produced in September 2011. Follow her on Twitter: VampyreVamp.  Or her website:

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One comment

  • Kim Reed says:

    This made me very hungry for oyster dressing, the oyster and bread turkey stuffing you remember too. My great grandmother’s recipe was from New Orleans. She sauteed celery, onion, a small red pepper and herbs. When my father was a boy he ate a burlap sack of oysters at a time. By the end of my childhood the little bivalves were smaller and as expensive as pearls, so the oyster stuffing tradition died out in my household. I still love to cook, albeit with a less illustrious list of acquaintances.