I get the question, “How did you get into food?” quite a bit. Usually I respond with some long-winded roundabout explanation involving some combination of “I went to college in Portland,” “My siblings and I grew up cooking,” and “I’ve done a little restaurant work.” Truthfully I have no straight answer other than the fact that I like it, and in the past few months, I’ve come to believe that perhaps a love of writing and writing about cooking is simply in my blood.
Both of my parents are handy in the kitchen, and I was used to eating home-cooked meals most of the time. My mother learned how to cook as many of my peers do—as an act of necessity once moving out on her own. Neither of her parents were much into cooking, so her experiments in bread baking and yogurt culturing were entirely her own doing. My father, on the other hand, had a father who smoked his own salmon, made a mean black bean turkey chili, and had a lifetime obsession with SPAM. His time spent cooking in restaurants and on rafting trips was little surprise given his upbringing.
My grandfather had a restless curiosity when it came to food—and, well, just about everything else. (His favorite dinnertime activity was to pose complex questions to every member at the table and listen for hours as we hemmed and hawed at an answer.) So while he had his own secret biscuit recipes and loved a good low-country boil, his southern heritage didn’t dictate the food to come out of his kitchen. Perhaps his culinary curiosity could be traced, as he says, to his “nutritionally misspent” youth, or perhaps it had more to do with his time traveling throughout Asia in the navy. I am sure his aptitude for constructing SPAM masubi was a combination of the two.
When my grandfather died in 2009, I inherited a copy of his Tassajara bread book, a few recipe cards (written in cursive!), and a significant collection of wooden spoons. I’ve baked bread with his annotations and hung the recipe cards above my desk, but have otherwise done little with these artifacts. But since striking out on my own as a freelancer and in the process branding myself as a semi-specialist in Southern food, I have become even more curious about my culinary lineage. I’ve gathered a few more of my grandfather’s cookbooks and disparate recipes in the hopes of finding some inspiration. Thoughts of books and essays flittered around in my head, but the only solid plan I’ve come back to is this (nearly blank) blog I’ve been keeping.
I spend more than enough time thinking, cooking, eating, and writing about current food trends and popular cookbooks. I have no desire to bother with these things once I am on my own time. But history? Southern culinary history? Here is something new I can wrap my head around. What better way to dive in than through the lens of my grandfather’s kitchen? I’ve got a few recipes and research ideas lined up for the next few weeks, but for those readers out there who knew Grandpa Loren, I’d love to hear some suggestions. To other readers—any Southern curiosity about which you’d like to learn more?