Growing up, my mother’s cooking mimicked that of her mother… Country! In fact, my mama cooked more of what most would know as Soul Food. Growing up as the youngest of 12 siblings during the Depression in the poor mountains of East Tennessee, she had learned to take very little of something and feed a large family.
Mama grew up eating more homegrown veggies than anything. The fruit wasn’t always readily available. The veggies were canned in Mason jars during the summer to feed the family during the winter. The meat wasn’t always available or affordable. Mama grew up on cornbread, biscuits, fried potatoes, beans, and greens. All seasoned with fatback cause it was cheap.
Something Mama knew nothing about were other cuisines. She only knew the way of her upbringing when it came to cooking and eating. Mama had never tried anything out of her norm. She was not interested in seafood, Chinese, Japanese, or even Italian recipes.
I was more than okay with how my mother cooked for us growing up! She was excellent at her craft. She fed us very well, and we never had reason to complain. I, for one, would try anything she put in front of me just because I knew how good she could cook. Nineteen times out of twenty, what I would try would be delicious! To this day, I have never made a biscuit or skillet of cornbread as good as hers, and I doubt I ever will.
My brother was 11 years older than me. He has always been a foodie and enjoyed trying as many different cuisines as he could experience. It was the 1960s, and other cuisines were gaining popularity. One day he brought home something my sister and I had never seen or even heard of. He brought home a large pepperoni pizza from a local pizzeria that was popular with his high school friends.
My dad took one look at the pepperoni pizza and exclaimed, “It looks like an open sore!” He certainly wasn’t going to try it. Next, my mama followed. I, the little chubby kid who would try anything edible put before her, was absolutely going to try it. And I loved it! Thus began my long-lived love of pizza. There was a time when I had pizza at least once a week. Now that I’m older, my body tends to complain somewhat if I eat it more than once every couple of months.
My love for pizza made me much more interested in whatever else the Italians had to offer. When we were teenagers and my sister got her driver’s license, we made it a weekly sister date to go out to one of our favorite pizzerias for dinner. There I sampled other Italian dishes. I loved them all.
When I grew up and had a family of my own, I often made Italian recipes. My sister-in-law had taught me how to make homemade spaghetti and lasagna. I perfected both. One summer, while visiting my parents for the summer, I offered to cook them my spaghetti. At first, they were reluctant. But knowing that I had three little girls who loved it, they agreed. Much to my surprise and joy, my daddy and mama loved my spaghetti. In fact, every time I visited from then on, they would ask me to make it for them.
To my knowledge, neither of my parents ever ate seafood, Chinese food, or any cuisine other than Italian for the remainder of their lives. All I can say is that they surely missed out on some good eating!