I can remember the first time I spent time in the kitchen with my grandmother as she taught me how to make her famous eggplant for our holiday dinner. Her kitchen was tiny by modern standards, with almost no counter space, and yet the feasts she churned out of that room could rival meals I’ve had at some of the best restaurants. Skipping the forty-five minutes of prep of peeling and painstakingly hand slicing each eggplant, then soaking them in salted water for 30 minutes, I pushed a stool next to her at the stove, and watched her as she dipped each piece in egg, and then expertly slid them into the hot oil of the two pans she was working. She repeated this action for the length of time it took to fry 6 whole eggplants (“the ones with the line on the bottom, not the circle, because those are the male eggplants and have less seeds,” she would tell me), which was easily an hour. And I hear you now, reader, thinking “an hour isn’t that long” but we are not finished yet. After frying she laid the fried eggplant in rows in a baking dish, alternating direction and layering tomato sauce in between, until she had used each and every piece- even the janky little end ones. Then she pressed down, with clean hands, on the finished product so that tomato sauce oozed up from the layers underneath, saturating the dish. That went into the oven for 25 minutes, then back in the oven to warm once we were ready to eat. It took all of 30 minutes to be consumed.
And what am I trying to illustrate with this story about the three hours of my grandmother’s life that went into making this one simple, but incredibly labor intensive dish multiple times a year? Her eggplant was a family favorite. Food was my grandmother’s love language, and she spoke it expertly. In his book “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts”, Dr. Gary Chapman talks about how food correlates with the “acts of service” and “receiving gifts” love languages. What makes the connection between food and love languages universal is the ability to transcend romantic relationships and extend to friends, family, and even colleagues and acquaintances. Many of our users have shared the memories of their own experiences with this phenomena.
Rachel Woolf tells about the “love, warmth and longing” that the memory of her mother, Regina Shwartz, elicits in her; how when Rachel would return from school, even before she was greeted by her mother’s customary welcome home hug, the smells from the kitchen would meet her in the stairwell and the knowledge that a comforting meal awaited her. She passed the love of her mother’s kitchen to her children, and her children passed it on to their children, and so her memory, and her love, is always with them.
Sara Sufrin, one of our most prolific contributors, tells us about the way that vegetables were revered in the Ladino community of her childhood. In her story “Vegetables stuffed with love” she tells about the stuffed vegetables her mother would prepare, and the stories she would tell about her own father, who owned a vegetable shop near the police headquarters and utilized his sway with the police to help keep Jews from being harassed. The police who aided his cause were given a box of fresh produce for their trouble.
These memories are a true treasure, the breadcrumbs marking our trail of love through time. FOODISH gives us the chance to digitize these memories, to share them with our loved ones, and to share our loved ones with the world.