The Suitcase Lady


February 17, 2010, 12:30 am

My mother-in-law was a splendid cook who had a life long penchant for junk food. How could she, I often wondered, produce memorable meals all her life and simultaneously be an unabashed Twinkie eater?

The answer rests in her childhood. Growing up on a homestead farm in Wisconsin, she lived in a family where money was scarce, but food wasn’t.

Years later she would tell us about Sunday dinners on the farm. The family’s affluent city relatives invariably showed up, ate ravenously and raved about the food; farm chicken, mashed russet potatoes, home canned green beans, freshly baked bread and garden fresh strawberry shortcake. She was aware that these city people could afford to eat squishy, white store bread, packaged cookies and meat that didn’t come from the back pasture. She would always end her recollections by saying, “they got so excited by that old food.”

Like all farm women, my mother-in-law learned to cook, can and bake at a young age. The family plus the farm hands needed to be fed three times every day. Her early life was not one of convenience foods, skipped meals or food on the run. It was the original slow food movement.

When my children were little, they were always eager to visit grandma. And what was their favorite meal, the biggest treat, which they all loved to share? Their culinary star grandma would pack them all off to Kentucky Fried Chicken for giant, greasy buckets of store bought chicken, mashed potatoes, leaden biscuits and gray gravy. Grandma had joined the ranks of the rich, and she was sharing the wealth.

4 Comments for this entry

  • Thelma Friedman

    Fried on Fried…….. yeesh!

  • Naomi

    When I saw the title of this post, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be about food or exhaustion. I’m glad it was about food! Great story. :)

  • evie

    Mary–Ah, yes. These women worked so hard, but they were, I’m afraid, corruptible. I remember my grandmother saying: I’m sick of cooking and baking!
    I’ve done it for 60 years! And that was that. eve

  • PSanafterthought

    I’ve always wondered if anyone has studied old people who ate real food vs the packaged stuff that has so much salt, chemicals, and fat and determined health outcomes. Just got back last evening from visiting my mom and aunt in “Manti,” so this sort of stuff is on my mind. Mom and sisters, from “Cleveland” are 92, 90, and 86.