Carol Jane Remsburg
There comes a time in everyone's life when we hark back to those days of old, those days when we were young and alive full of the devil and possibly the spirit of something else. Back then, everything was a passion whether it was over how swiftly we pumped the pedals on our bikes to a coming storm. Everything had drama right down to our eats. Yes, foods, favorite ones have a passion all their own.
From my earliest memories I would tell you that I never bleated for surf and turf, nor filet mignon. I didn't weep over beef stroganoff or veal parmesan. Simple foods, the basic ones relative to my area produced by a cook, no a chef, without peer were my wants.
My mother, yeah, my mother was without peer. She has some extra-sense of the flavor-kind. And when she delved into the outer-sphere of strange things, often I didn't enjoy them. It was her base of the basics that were truly eaten with relish. We didn't need anything fancy. From corned-beef hash, meatballs and noodles with gravy, old-fashioned fried burgers with mashed potatoes and gravy, fried or barbecued chicken, and pot roast were among the myriad of her finesse. There was no turkey beyond her touch or portion or beef or chicken that didn't have her signature. All of it was good. All of it was abundant. All of it was kept within her budget. We were all well fed.
Several days ago, I had a hankering. Well, it was more than a hankering. It was a need, one I could taste. It had been nearly thirteen years since the woman had plied her touch to a dish—any dish. Long in her grave, I took up my space before the stove. There are many dishes I have replicated but not this one. I just never had nor did I know the recipe save the taste of it.
It was a simple soup—potato soup. It's another old-fashioned brew atop the stove that fills the house with love and simply must be accompanied by freshly baked bread. It was a Saturday and I was up to the task. I thought I knew all the recipes with my intuition had to guide me. For I'd never for made it on my own before.
In the big heavy-bottomed pan, I placed a pound of sliced bacon over medium-high heat. I stirred it about constantly while peeling a stack of potatoes. After that, all was fuzzy in my memory so I had to go it on instinct and the remembrance of my mother. I was unsure and spoke aloud to myself. The plain, white, yeasty bread was already building in its place, so the soup had my sole attention.
I diced up to big onions, one mostly still green and as pungent as I could find.
I drained the bacon and most of its leavings but not all. Into the pot went the onions. They sizzled while I salted and stirred them. Some browned, but mostly translucent, I dropped the sliced potatoes into the pot. The drained bacon followed. I salted it a little more and stirred it with forgotten emotion. The scent was almost right, but not yet. I was walking the high wire of memory, could I manage to reproduce it? Time would tell.
Once every potato had been thoroughly coated with the mixture of salt, pepper, sautéed onions, and bacon grease, I needed to recall my mother's favorite herbs—Thyme and Marjoram. With a minimum of the former and a heavy hand on the latter, I strove forward. Minutes later, it was time for the water—not much—just enough to top the potatoes yet not enough to allow a full boil without burning. I turned the fire down just enough to cook the mass. The final touch had to be added later and not too soon.
I stirred and I stirred pulled back in time by the scent. It was right, but only by so much. I hadn't produced the finished product yet and worried that I wouldn't manage it without botching the entire job.
The pot simmered, bubbled, and steamed. The time was right. I added cream and milk to the mix and turned the fire lower. I stirred it with the hope of a memory. The memory came. The memory was real and full of flavor.
The dinner that night was a triumph to me. It was what I can be and still can become. I can make these things. Of all the rest, I have managed, yet this one I've dared not.
The winds outside had turned suddenly bitter. Inside the house was clean, warm and with the welcome of good, hearty hot soup and fresh bread. It's the memory I can pass along to my own child of thanksgiving and trust. With a good, satisfying fill to our bellies, the outside world isn't nearly so frightening. Pass it along to yours.