Sunday, February 06, 2011

Memoir: The Chef

When it comes to food that’s amazing, it is all, of course, in the mouth of the critic. For those who read the title thinking, ‘The Chef?’ and have come looking for stories of gourmet cuisine (the likes of which you’d find in a magazine), please read no further. Chicken Florentine and crème brulee are hardly the stuff of my childhood memories. But for those who remember the particular way even the most basic of food tastes when served from the kitchen of someone you love, this post is for you.

For me, though, this post is for my grandpa.

A farmer for life and a butcher by trade, my grandpa grew up understanding and cutting meat as naturally as one can. So valuable were his services, in fact, that when drafted into the Korean War, he was spared from active duty due to the fact that, as a meat-cutter, he couldn’t be replaced. My grandfather literally missed serving on the front lines in order to serve the front lines, and without this exception, it would be possible to assume that I, nor my extended family, might not be here to tell the stories of such times.

My grandfather’s past as a butcher held no importance to me in my youth though. Instead, it was what ended up on the table in front of me as a child that I hold on to most dearly in my mind. Good, old-fashioned and simple farm meals of fried chicken and sweet corn, pot roasts with boiled potatoes, beef stews, and, beginning in my teenage years, homemade bread from the bread maker, are what I remember most. On one too many occasions, my auntie and I would both be caught with our spoons (or hands) in the pots of this or that, or in the just-opened bread maker. To this day, if only to be obstinate, still insist on first dibs of any freshly baked slices.

The crowning achievement of my grandfather’s culinary prowess, though, was his homemade ice cream, for which he found local fame (if not within the small community town in which he lived, most definitely within the family). Often duplicated but never replicated, the smooth creamy perfectness of his fresh ice cream on a warm summer night was the perfect compliment to a fully belly of rich foods. A promised ending to any meal, it was also offered as a ‘bedtime treat’ for all guests at the Bed and Breakfast my grandparents ran out on the farm. Of course, once the guests were served, free reign on seconds for the rest of us was always assumed.

It can be seen as interesting how the foods of our youth can shape our adult palates, and although I don’t think anyone will can make a perfect 7-layer jell-o salads or amazingly juicy meatloaf as well has he did, it is those meals that I continue to play with as favourites in my mind. Although my diet today is as far of a resemblance to farm-styled fare as you could possibly get, those meals continue to be the foods that bring back a small slice of childhood to me when I think about them. It is likely that among the healthier fare I choose in these days, the recipes I loved as a child will likely be passed on as favourites to my children someday as well. It'll be my own secret way of ensuring that the memory of my grandpa (and his homemade ice cream) will never die.

1 comment:

Tera said...

Very sweet! I feel honored to have been able to enjoy your grandpa's icecream on my visit to Iowa... and to run through his corn fields! :)