What I would have asked my grandmother if she was still alive
Today it was my grandmother’s birthday, a grandmother I have in fact never met. Yet, I still wanted to find a way to honour and remember her. I wished that I could have asked her what Julia Turshen encourages us to ask; who is the oldest person you know? Give them a call and find out their favorite thing to eat when they were young. Write it down or just listen.
But I couldn't. So I asked my aunt, who is the only living connection still alive. I didn't just ask this question, I also asked what she loved to cook, what dishes she really good at, what she loved to eat as an adult, and how she shared her favorite meals with others. I wanted to know so much more as I longed to understand. When I asked my aunt, who is the only living connection I still have with her, some of these questions, she was surprised. She explained to me that as she was born just before the war began, so the memories she had of her connection with food was solely based on scarcity. What was her favorite cake? Cake? There was no such thing during the war, it was just a matter of survival, and what you could grow in your own garden.
And I felt terribly foolish for assuming that abundance was a universal experience. But this gave me a deep insight into her resourcefulness, her capability to nurture my aunt and others around her during a time of scarcity. She herself grew up with abundance before the war, on a large family farm, but also with a respect for how precious food is as a resource.
I thought about my own experiences of scarcity in different phases of my life, and yes, it had taught me to honour the ingredient, to respect it, not waste it. As Shirley Geok-lin Lim has said, "..we multiplicious billions will all have to lean to eat well in poverty, turning scarcity and parsimony into triumphant feasting."
So I add to Turshen's question, and encourage you to ask your loved ones around you these questions before they are no longer with us:
What do you love to cook and why?
What food do you love to share with others?
What's your favorite memory or tradition that you shared within your family?
What's the worst thing you have eaten?
Can you remember the first dish you ever cooked on your own?
Although I didn't have a recipe of a favorite food to note down, I had more than that, a connection to who she was and how she cooked. I decided to still bake her a cake, something that reflected who she was. I settled on a recipe I created myself. A cherry almond ring topped with apple. A fitting tribute.