My grandmother was an amazing cook. Being the oldest in my family, I named her Moh-Moh when I was just a toddler. Moh-Moh lived with us growing up, off and on, and I got to cook with her, when she would let me. I was fortunate to be given her Better Homes and Garden cookbook from the 1960s after she died. My favorite thing about the cookbook is its sticky and stained pages. These are the pages of some of my favorite things she used to make for our family. Some recipes were made for special occasions and others were tried and true favorite meals. I have used the cookbook every time I want to make one of those favorites and to spend some time remembering my grandmother.
Food plays a special place in the memories of our loved ones. There are so many memories tied to the smells, tastes and occasions where food is central. Many of us have foods or dishes that take us right back to special time with our loved ones. I find that some of my favorite stories of my grandmother also center around the food she made. Like the time she made shrimp gumbo so hot that I could feel the spices the minute I entered her home. Moh-Moh loved spicy food, and from years of eating it, her taste buds were dulled. When I came to visit her one time, I walked up to her front door and as I entered my eye began to sting. I realized she had made the gumbo with four times the recommended measured amount of the gumbo spices. She and I laughed about it at the time, once we figured out what had happened. I washed the seafood dozens of times before we ate but I have never eaten anything so hot or laughed so much.
After years of using her cookbook, I decided it was time to make more of a memory book with the cookbook. I had recently been given hundreds of her photos from my mom and started to paste them into the cookbook next to our favorite recipes. Adding the photos to the cookbook has made using it that much better and it’s a simple way to make a memory book of my grandmother. Each time I make something from the cookbook, I get to spend time thinking about my grandmother and the legacy of good food she passed on to me. I get to see her in her prime and remember the good times we had together, cooking and celebrating.
Recently, I developed a spiritual practices course called Mindful Memory Making, in which we explore creative ways to remember loved ones in an intentional and care-filled way. We’ve had participants who have created shadow boxes of their loved one’s favorite things, filled a “little library” with their loved one’s favorite books and filled a garden with their loved one’s favorite plants and flowers. We offer the course several times a year through Faith & Grief, the nonprofit grief support organization where I work. You can learn more about this and other workshops available through Faith & Grief on their calendar of events page.