Sharing Mom’s Cooking with My Characters

 

Mom's Fried Chicken

A batch of Mom’s Fried Chicken

 

One of the things I enjoy most about writing fiction is that I can use my stories to honor the lives of people I love.

Like my mother. Mom has been in heaven since 1999, but I keep her close by through my stories. She is near in the names I create, in the personalities of characters, and even in the meals that my characters eat.

When I was a child, our family would always sit together for meals: Father, mother, and six children. Each night one of us would thank God for the food before we ate. We talked about the happenings of the day or what made us laugh on a TV show. Dad might sing a popular song and the rest of us would join in.

My father was the one who always insisted on a certain formality to our meal time. I suspect it was because of his own upbringing and his military experience. Dad knew that a meal was not to be taken for granted.

He was also a good cook, though we didn’t appreciate his Southern cooking as much as we did Mom’s basic, Midwest recipes. Dad would boil the “chitlins” (pig intestines) and stink up the house, and we would suffer through the eating because we loved him.

So far I’ve written about Mom’s Chicken, both fried and smothered. Soon to be included in stories are Mom’s biscuits and cornbread. Mom’s chili beans. Mom’s cupcakes and sugar frosting. Mom’s fried fish. Mom’s meatloaf and her famous mashed potatoes. Mom’s spaghetti. Mom’s potato salad.

I have her Joy of Cooking cookbook which she used throughout my childhood. Its pages are stained with food drippings and highlighted with her personal notes. I treasure that book and still use it.

For one of my stories, I created a kitchen with my mother in mind. She never owned a house. I lived with my mother in at least 10 houses before I turned 18 years old. No, she never had a place to call her own as long as she lived.

So, through my stories, my mother finally does. I add the details that I know she would have enjoyed. In one story, her kitchen has accents of blue and yellow (her favorite colors) with a large window above the sink and a view of the backyard garden. You can read a story excerpt that takes place in this kitchen. I also have a scene in that story where the girl learns to fry chicken, which gives me a chance to dig into and use the sensual memories I have of helping my mother cook up batches of that tasty dish.

In another story, I share Mom’s way of involving us in biscuit making when we were kids. An older sister wants to help her younger brother regain joy in his life after a bad experience. She thinks time in the kitchen will do him good and teaches him to cut the biscuit rounds by using inverted drinking glasses. “Flour the edges, push down into the dough, twist and lift.”

Mom lives on in the kitchens of my fictional worlds.

What books have you read that have great food scenes and descriptions?

Extra: Take a look at this blog I just discovered — Yummy Books: Recipes for Literature. Cara creates food inspired by the scenes in the books she reads. Her photographs are gorgeous. She even found a recipe for Lane Cake from To Kill A Mockingbird. What a great idea for a blog!


 

Darla McDavid

I'm Darla, a writer of stories about family, friends, goodness, and God. I love cats, coffee, gardening, and tall stacks of books. Click here to subscribe to my blog. You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram. In my other life, I'm an administrative professional and a Sunday School teacher for preschoolers.

8 Comments Write a comment

  1. Writing dialogue around a table of multiple characters is a difficult chore. Think of the final kitchen scene of MOONSTRUCK or the family meal in WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING. Each character–and each dish served at the table–distinctly creates an image.
    One of your family dinners–imagine your dad singing or the children managing to eat the chitlins–would be a wonderful scene, Darla. A full and compelling story in itself, told as only you can tell it.
    And I love that, through your writing, your sweet mama now has her very own kitchen.

    Reply

    • A chitlin dinner table scene would be pretty fun to write! I’d have to include the hours that lead up to the dining experience, too. We hated being in the house while he was cooking it because of the awful odor. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m wondering where he bought them. I can’t imagine chitterlings being sold in downtown 1960s Santa Barbara!

      Reply

  2. Beautiful post, Darla. My mom died when I was two, so I sincerely appreciate how much you savor (pun intended) these memories with each of your senses fully awake. My friend and I found a recipe card file box at a garage sale once, chock full of handwritten notes and tips from someone whom we assumed had passed away. We bought it, read the cards aloud, and it truly brought this unknown woman to life for us. We felt privileged. You can learn a lot about someone from their recipes…

    Reply

    • Oh, DeeDee, I’m so sorry to hear that you lost your mother at such a young age. My mother left us in a different way when I got older, so these happy memories of her are like a soothing balm for me. I would love to find a box of recipes like you did to read through. Hmmm … you’ve given me an idea for a story!

      Reply

  3. Thank you, Darla. For some reason your story made me realize that I’ve never seen my dad cook a single thing! Not even pouring me a glass of milk! I do remember his M.O. during the few parties my parents had. When he got tired he would go to his bedroom, get into his pajamas, and come back to where the guests were. This was his humorous way of telling guests it was time for them to leave. Then he’d go to bed, while my mom did all the clean up.

    Reply

    • What about barbecues? Maybe he knew he wasn’t good for anything in the kitchen and your mom wanted to preserve her dishes.

      And that is one clever M.O. he had! (Taking notes.)

      Reply

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