Friday, August 25, 2006
by Martha Marshall
When someone is grieving, it's traditional to offer food. Sometimes that is all one can do. Sometimes it's enough just to be there, but the presence of comforting food makes everyone feel better just for a little while.
Last week Dina called and I said to come by for supper. Having gone through the awful last weeks of her beloved dog Zebo's life, and not being ready yet to accept the reality of his passing, she seemed glad to be here and be wallowed all over by my three dogs. They all knew something was amiss. They all stuck close to her, a chin in her lap here, a head on her shoulder there, an occasional lick, a wagging tail bumping against her, and, later in the evening, a whole 20-pound dog asleep on her lap.
And so, as my dogs were doing their part to say "we know it hurts," I was making dinner and serving wine. That night we convinced her to stay, and we talked and talked some more about things that hurt.
Then yesterday Dina was here again with Phyllis for another one of our Powerful Women's Business Meetings. And again we had food -- of course! This time it was my Famous Alabama Chicken Stew. It's famous only because people here in Florida think Alabama is exotic.
This recipe is a version of Brunswick Stew. In Alabama it’s made with chicken, tomatoes, lima beans, potatoes, corn, onions, and black and red pepper (I like mine spicy.) When I was a kid, it was a 4th of July and Labor Day tradition for schools and churches and fire stations to make the stew in a huge iron pot, simmer it over a fire outside all day, stirring it with a big wooden paddle, and sell it by the bowl, the quart, or the gallon. The long simmering and stirring were necessary for the stew to thicken and the chicken to become so tender it would break up completely, and so that the fire would impart just the slightest smoky flavor. Then, probably some time in the 70s, the food police stepped in and shut down what had been a treasured tradition. No more open-air stew pots.
My sister later carried on the tradition for a lot of years, making the stew for her Baptist Church in the fellowship hall kitchen, until she turned the responsibility over to someone else. But she still has stew for me when I go "home." She and her husband have a cabin in the woods -- their little retreat -- and we go out there, fire up the iron pot outside and make our stew.
So yesterday I thought of chicken stew, a sublime comfort food if there ever was one. And Dina, I hope you know you are loved.
Posted by Martha Marshall at 6:38 AM