Holiday Cranberry Aspic Recipe

The Food Wars Stoked by Fire Blood

“Here she comes!” “Oh my God, what is she doing?  She’s carrying two bowls and has a pan of something. And look, the kids are bringing more dishes out of her house!  I told her to bring one large salad this year!”

This was one variation of a reoccurring speech, tersely spoken by my mother when she inevitably spied Aunt Mae (her older sister) through the kitchen window.  As my Aunt and her food entourage, usually nieces and nephews, paraded across the wide grass side-yard separating the two homes, my mother would go on to say.  “She thinks she’s such a great cook. She always brings new, untested recipes which fall flat on their faces.  I wish just for once, she would do what I ask!”

Insert a big laugh here… Both my Mother and Aunt were amazing cooks.  I don’t recall ever eating anything they made that wasn’t completely delicious.  Yes, Aunt Mae-Mae was the experimental cook in our family. Mother preferred tried and true recipes.

….and they both had a shared fire blood running through their veins!

For years, Mother and Aunt Mae engaged in a subtle and mostly unspoken food war.  Individually preparing and then sharing -oh so carefully and very casually- this or that tasty bit of something or another. Only during family gatherings would the pointy, pokey forks erupt in the form of verbal head-ons.  When Aunt Mae hit Mother’s kitchen with her arms full of goodies, the spit-fire words would quietly fly for a few seconds!  These food confrontations happened several times a year, as our family was big on gathering the clan for holidays and birthday bashes.

The family feasts were tour de forces of great home cooking and all the good (and not so good) personality points that make up our family.  Lots of shared stories, much catching up on family doings and heated exchanges over political opinions could always be counted on to have a place at the dinner table.  Brisk discussions of child-rearing methods and debates on religious matters also played out.  It was a multi-generational tribal interaction, similar to those taking place around many American family food tables in 1950’s and 60’s era homes.

It was the food that typically took the spotlight with our family women.  Various recipes and food prep tips were exchanged while the dinner dishes were being washed and put away.  The beauty of the food contention between Mother and Aunt Mae is that we younger women now include recipes in our collections, that are a direct result of their intense food-making competition.  We also gladly share that inherited, same fire blood which propels many of us forward in our cooking pursuits and in our movement through life.

In spite of their sisterly food rivalry, Mother and Aunt Mae always had each others’ backs.  They stayed close even after bouts of “telling it like it is” to each other and remained tightly bonded, caring for one another to the end.

They were wonderful cooks, who through their cookery showered love on anyone who was lucky enough to be close at hand.  This included elder family-deprived neighbors, surprised friends who were gifted with a pie or cookies just because…., hungry railroad bums who knocked on our back doors (there was a bum inscribed symbol for friendly food handouts on the back corner of our alleyway garage).  They always took food to local families who had lost loved ones.

Mother and Aunt Mae were Cooks with a capital “C” and fiery women of incredible strength and purpose.  Excellent role models!  I’d like to share with you, two of the “Food War” recipes.