Most black families I know strongly believe the way you season food comes from your soul. It’s the heart and love of the cook that makes the meal special. In my own family, “If it ain’t spicy, it ain’t good.” When I was a little boy, and I would be punished, usually for making too much noise, it was off to a chair in the kitchen, where my grandmother would be cooking for the family. This wasn’t really punishment to me, but it did keep me in one place so I couldn’t get into more trouble. I will never forget what seemed like magic, in my grandmother’s kitchen. There would be a pot on every burner, steam clouds to the ceiling, and always something boiling over (usually rice). My grandmother reminded me (as I look back) of a music conductor. If something steams too much, lower the fire or if something boils over, take the lid off or take the lid off AND lower the fire – you get the gist. In any case, she conducted her cooking and tended to it as seriously as if she was babysitting the most fragile and littlest of her grandkids. Food smoke and cloud puffs filled the ceiling and made for quite a scene. It would literally take her all day to get the entire meal prepared. The gas stove in my grandmother’s house would burn from AM to PM and then some, depending on what was on the menu that day. I recall we always had some sort of bean – red, kidney, white or butter. It was always the main course, over rice, with usually a variety of side meats – pickled, smoked or both.
My grandmother had a small garden in the backyard, before it was trendy, as did most of her neighbors. There she grew peppers, tomatoes and of course chayote (or as we say, mirliton). If she didn’t have something fresh in the garden, a trip to the Circle Food store was needed. This usually involved a series of buses to get across town. Making groceries, then loaded with bags, boarding a bus, and then another, or sometimes more, and then walking about a mile with both arms full of food for the family, to get back home and cook. Worth it? I don’t remember any leftovers!