Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Southern Girl At Heart

In the past few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about Dad. It's been two years since he died and his birthday would be this coming Saturday. B and I are planning on finding fried chicken at some point over the holiday in his honor!

I've always associated Dad with food, a notion that start when my brother bemoaned the memory of Dad at Sunday dinner. You'd pass your plate down to him to cut up your chicken (we were young, mind you), and back it would come in tiny pieces. Tiny skinless pieces. B's family has a table toll; if you request wine, mashed potatoes, or sauce to be guided your way at the table, you can watch it decrease, be it by swill, scoop, or spoonful, as it moves your way. "Toll!" is the only apology needed.

Maybe it's my love of food or my Odyssean-style hunt for the perfect recipe, but I knew that I was a true Southern girl when I asked for a cookie recipe shortly after a funeral, Dad's funeral. Stay with me. Someone delivered a box of cookies to our house, as is custom during Southern mourning periods.

The bite-size delicacies arrived in a mixed greens plastic salad tub from Sam's, label removed, of course. From first bite, I knew these were the cookies I'd been looking for all my life. At the time, of course, I was simply eating and crying, another Southern specialty, but later, as the weeks rolled by, I remembered, through all the meals, tears, and evens of those crazy days, the chocolate chip cookies that had been so thoughtfully delivered to the house.

Did I mention that the cookie cupid, the deliverer of the divine, was the wife of the OB who delivered me? Faulkner is doing a happy dance somewhere in that eternal South beyond the clouds.

It took me several months and, quite honestly, I had other things to think about, but eventually I wrote a note to the wife of the man who brought me into this world about the cookies she delivered when God took my Father out of it.

Dear Mary,

I wanted to thank you so much for your kindness during the days after my Father's passing. I so appreciate knowing that Mom is in a town full of kind-hearted people who stop by and keep us in their prayers.

I also wanted to tell you how much I appreciated your sweet delivery in the days following Dad's death. Our family shared many a warm memory of Dad over your cookies, something I know he would've approved of.

Even today, when I think of those days after the funeral, my favorite memories are of my siblings and Mom sharing their memories, and your cookies remind me of that. If you don't mind, could you send me the recipe?


And that, friends, is how I parlayed a funeral delivery into a quasi-funeral delivery thank you note into a cookie recipe request.

It took her a few months to write me back, but when she did, she gave me the blessed cookie recipe, which I share now, partly because I'm afraid the stained paper won't last much longer, partly because I think everyone should try it, and partly because I'm afraid B will leave me if I stop making them.

She called it the Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe and it's close, but just different enough to make all the difference in the world.

1 cup shortening (oh hush, you'll never be the same!)
3/4 sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs

Mix ingredients together in a standing mixer (for speed! When we need cookies, we NEED cookies!). In a separate bowl, combine 2 1/4 cups flour, 1 tsp baking soda, and 1 tsp salt.

Add to sugar mixture and blend well.

Add 1 cup chocolate chips.

Bake at 375 for 9.5-10.5 (yes, she included the halves) minutes. She claims it makes 36-38, but that's if you scoop them teaspoon size (which makes excellent mint ice cream cookie sandwiches, by the way).

She left me with one final instruction, "Do NOT over bake!" Her emphasis on the "NOT", you'll notice.

While I'm sure this wonderful lady questioned my questionable letter requesting a cookie recipe she delivered to what was basically my Father's wake, she seemed to understand the long-lingering truth: In the South, at least, emotions are intrinsically bound with food. We celebrate with Sunday suppers, slice cake for anniversaries and birthdays, and set our snacks for clubs, groups, meetings, and more. Nothing binds church women together faster than the call for casseroles, which leaves me feeling less guilty; if we serve others through food, then perhaps this sweet woman, the wife to the very first doctor in my life, got a kick out of serving me.


Kristi said...

I love this post. And the minister at my church calls this "the sacrament of the green bean casserole". (Seriously. He called it exactly that in a sermon about two weeks ago, and he was quoting another minister!)

Katie said...

Great post Ashley! I think of your dad often whenever I see Spanish Moss (which is common here). A voice in my subconscious will say, "Look Lloyd!!! Spanish Moss!!" And then it makes me laugh! Just one of many great memories of your parents. I also think of your dad whenever I eat pound cake. I can just see him now, standing in your kitchen, slicing a piece, adding a little butter, and heating it in the microwave. :)

Mom said...

Thank you, thank you for writing again. Know that your thoughts in a blog bring joy to many. You have a gift for writing and I pray that you will have the time to continue this journal. I especially love this story and I think you ought to share it with Southern Living.