I was listening to NPR on the way home from work the other day. They were sharing a piece about soul-food. In one of the interviews, a young man told of how he asked his granddaddy for his gumbo recipe, to which his granddaddy responded, “boy, there ain’t no recipe, now get in this kitchen and watch me make it.”
I could not help but smile, what a beautiful picture of what soul-food is all about. Food for the soul must be born in the soul, not on an index card.
We’ve all seen this phenomenon first hand, that even when we follow aunt Betty’s recipe exactly, the results just aren’t quite the same. We come up with excuses, blaming the altitude or the insufficient seasoning on our cast-iron skillet, but the only real excuse, and I really do believe this, is that it is missing the love.
When I go see my aunt Betty, she always makes me gravy and biscuits. These are things of legends. Every time either my brother or I are in Arkansas without the other, we will call each other up and rub it in that we had aunt Betty’s biscuits and gravy. I have been eating this meal my whole life and yet I struggle to make gravy at all, let alone such wonderful grub as aunt Betty’s.
I’ve been watching her, trying to learn her secrets, but she always “eyeballs” the ingredients and evidently my eyeballs don’t work as well as hers. Aunt Betty usually fusses over the thickness or saltiness, but no matter what, that is always some good gravy. It is made with love, as she stirs with her wooden spoon, she gives herself to this act of creating because she loves me and you can literally taste it.
Perhaps it is this way with all our creative acts. That if we try to recreate what another has done, no matter how good the original, the end result is simply left lacking. This doesn’t mean we don’t learn from those before. No, we get in that kitchen and watch them work. And we learn, if we are lucky, that the secret ingredient is not some exotic spice but a charitable heart, a passion to make the world a better place, even if only one biscuit at a time. I am a witness that a single act of creating soul-food can change a person.
Although my aunt Betty never misses an opportunity to tell me she loves me, I hear her the loudest at the dinner table. I taste the truth of these words in her gravy and it oh so sweet. I only pray that I will be so brave when I put my hands to work, that I will not seek to imitate, but to love; and that is how I would best honor Aunt Betty. Not by trying to recreate her food, but by giving myself to something in such a way, that perhaps it just might change the world, that it just might be real soul-food.
This is a re-post of a blog Michael wrote earlier this year, but in light of the coming gravy on Thanksgiving, he thought we might need the inspiration. Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday, but its not the same without Aunt Betty. Michael is cooking the Turkey this year with his family in Colorado. He writes a blog, A Sprig of Hope, which you can read by clicking here.