The reason I haven’t written a post in a long time is because I’ve been preoccupied with the business of being freed from my toxic day job and finishing a book. After five years the book is done and out trying to find a home but, given the state of publishing these days, there’s a very good chance I may not live long enough to see it out in the world. I’m pretty much okay with this because I’ve reached the age that understands the necessity of weighing what I can control against what I definitely can’t. What I can control is maintaining a strong belief in what the book conveys about young women trying hard to realize their ambitions in the face of a whole lot of barriers, including sexual harassment, abuse, and addiction. (I know, sounds depressing, but large parts of it are really funny. You’ll love reading it after I die!)
ANYWAY…. What does this have to do with disastrous kitchen fiascoes? Well, there’s a story in the book about the time I spent in Atlanta (it’s a memoir) working as a community organizer in a poor, all-black neighborhood. I was twenty years old and stupid in all the ways twenty year olds are but I was lucky because I got to spend my days with four elderly black women. Now that they were blessedly free of their often thankless jobs and raring to control what they could control themselves, they spent their time fighting to stop the city from bulldozing their neighborhood to build a stadium. My job was to follow them all over the place, stopping anyone who crossed our paths and charming/shaming them into signing a petition and showing up at protests in the mayor’s office. We always left off around 4 PM to head over to the public market where they picked out ingredients for their supper. I had never shopped in a market like this before, nor seen half of what was offered at the stalls–piles of different river fishes, roots, greens, herbs and spices. Since I was not only young but a white Yankee girl they didn’t expect me to know anything about life, let alone what the market offered. Up and down among the stalls we walked with them insisting I learn their important lessons, including some of the ways their recipes were more valuable than anything else they could give me.
(Atlanta’s Auburn Public Market, 1988)
The memory of these women, the education they so generously imparted to that ignorant girl, have been twirling inside me lately. While writing this book I pulled out the little notebook in which I wrote down their recipes the minute I left them for the bus ride back to my ratty apartment. These recipes make up the food pulled long ago from the spines of the women’s ancestors who, before being packed for the long ocean journey, squirreled away seeds from their homelands and then, somehow, as soon as they were able, willed crops like red peas, okra, and sweet potatoes to thrive and sustain them in the new forbidding world they found themselves in.
Remembering these four women slaps me out of feeling sorry for myself. Each one of them would point out there’s a world going fast to hell in a hand basket outside my door and I have no significant troubles to contrast them to. Every day they confronted the hard realities of their lives and decided to do something about it by walking through the sweltering Atlanta streets to save their homes. Afterwards, they pulled out family recipes and made themselves a good supper that was key to their own survival.
I better start finding a way to do the same.
Miss Glover’s Coconut Custard Pie
(from Pie Every Day)
Single 9-inch unbaked butter and lard crust (keep in refrigerator while making the filling)
4 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 2/3 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup shredded coconut, preferably fresh
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Beat together together the eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla and salt until smooth. Stir in the coconut, then pour mixture into the pie shell. Sprinkle nutmeg on top.
Place the pie pan on top of a baking sheet and bake in the center of the oven for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes more or until a knife inserted into the edge of the custard comes out clean. the center may still be a little wobbly but that’s okay.
Let the pie cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting.