Food for Food’s Sake

I come from people who believe food is otherworldly. Miraculous, even. We are simple people who have built our religions partly around food.

Take Baptists. When you are ill, before anyone at church even says a prayer you get a casserole. When you have a baby, the first things you receive are baked goods. At your funeral, nobody will come unless Cousin Bentley makes deviled eggs.

So you can imagine how wonderful it was to wake up to the smell of food this morning. All kinds of food.

I rolled over in bed to check the clock. It was 6:03 a.m. and I could smell things baking. I stumbled out of the bedroom into a kitchen that was lit up like the Las Vegas Strip.

There was the hum of an electric oven, the sizzle of a skillet, the smell of vanilla, the overwhelming taste of melted butter, and the whir of a KitchenAid mixer.

My wife was preparing about 10,398 dishes at once. She is what you’d call a bipolar cook. She cooks by frantic inspiration, sometimes standing near a stove for forty days without sleep.

When these bouts of inspiration hit, it is like watching a tropical storm in slow motion. Or a monster truck rally.

Mixing bowls sat on every shelf, each table, and on the top the fridge, loaded with cake batter.

I love cake batter. But I know from experience that I am not allowed to taste her cake batter with my finger. If at any time, my greasy digit desecrates her batter she will alter my anatomy with a pair of tongs.

“Mmmm,” I said. “Cake batter.”

And she answered me with a wild-eyed look often seen in “B” horror movies just before an unimportant supporting actor gets decapitated. She indicated she was about to reach for the tongs.

So I left the kitchen and watched from afar. My wife was cooking up a smorgasbord. There were chef’s knives on every flat surface, cutting boards with mounds of diced onions, minced piles of chlorophyll-soaked parsley, and miniature Everests of shredded cheese.

And bacon. My wife is always frying bacon. Sometimes she does this for no discernable reason. I’ve quit asking why because she always says, “I needed more grease.”

But I think there’s more to it than that.

I remember one time when I was in college, I took an art class. The teacher created a clay sculpture composed of naked people. And I’ll never forget what he said when he unveiled it:

“This is art, for art’s sake.”

None of us students knew exactly what he meant by this phrase. Most of us were too busy staring, thinking deep thoughts such as, “The figures in this sculpture are definitely not Presbyterian.”

But the teacher explained himself. He said that art needs no justification. It doesn’t have to make a political statement. No social or spiritual revelations. Art is just there to be—well—loved. And I really liked that.

Because that’s the way my wife approaches her kitchen. She works in butter the way some work in oils or acrylics. Her concoctions need no reason. It is food for food’s sake.

Watching her cook was like being a spectator in the studio of Rodin, Sargent, or Vermeer. I was seeing, smelling, and admiring the art of our ancestors. She follows recipes that predate her. That predate her great-great grandparents.

I watched her trim a slab of pie dough with scissors. I saw her test freshly baked layers of yellow cake with broken broom straws, then grease new casserole tins with bacon grease from a Maxwell House can.

She made two casseroles for our friend, Julie, whose mother just died. One casserole for our friend, Rena, who just had a baby.

Which brings up another subject. Casseroles.

They are important to our way of life. They might not seem like much to some, but they are everything to us Food People.

Casseroles accompany nearly every special occasion, such as funerals, weddings, baptisms, birthdays, SEC Championships, Columbus Day, Tuesdays, etc.

Our casseroles are always made with a minimum of six pounds of cheese and nine sticks of unsalted butter. And they are often hand delivered in blue cornflower Corningware dishes that never make it back home. These dishes simply become mixed up with another church lady’s kidnapped collection of bakeware.

These same dishes get delivered, redelivered, and re-redelivered all over town. Round and round the dishes go. From house to house. Like musical chairs, but with more saturated fat.

In our county, there are some Corningware dishes that have been in circulation since Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office.

Like I said. This is a religion.

After I watched my wife for a few minutes, she announced that she was leaving the kitchen to use the restroom. She asked me to keep an eye on things. And I did.

I stood in the middle of what felt like a divine laboratory, with everything bubbling and baking around me. The smells were enough to stop your heart.

I made sure nothing boiled over. I listened for oven timers. And I truly felt privileged to be here. Not just in this kitchen, but upon this Earth, where humans—despite what the haters claim—actually love each other enough to feed one another.

What a concept. People cooking for people. Chicken casserole for chicken casserole’s sake.

That’s when I noticed the cake batter sitting lovely in the windowsill. White. Pure. Thick. And the Glory of the Lord shone about it.

So anyway, that’s how I got neutered.

36 comments

  1. oldlibrariansshelf - October 12, 2020 7:51 am

    Thanks, Sean, for sharing your art of word-sculpting!

    Reply
  2. Dianne Keffer - October 12, 2020 8:57 am

    Brings me home when you talk of food and the South, thank you

    Reply
  3. Dean - October 12, 2020 11:33 am

    My husband passed away recently and within 2 hours we had food and for over two weeks we had food and gift cards to buy more food.
    When you are on the receiving end you know how to appreciate it. A great southern tradition.
    Great column as always

    Reply
  4. chatfield84 - October 12, 2020 11:59 am

    Yes, sir. Food is my art, my consolation, my gift as well. I’m not trained like your Jamie, but I speak her language. And you’d come back with a nub here too . 🙂

    Reply
  5. Jan - October 12, 2020 12:27 pm

    A great commentary on the art of cooking and food … your descriptions are so vivid that I can see, smell and taste the awesome results of Jamie’s creations. She cooks as an artist should without trying to keep the kitchen neat and with shear abandon, not attempting to use as few pans as possible.

    Reply
  6. Sharon Brock - October 12, 2020 12:36 pm

    My Texas Granny was the same way. She had a stand alone freezer filled with kitchen miracles. I have the recipe for one of those casseroles. Five generations of my family have scarfed it down with great enjoyment. I have made food for others and received it in kind. Food prepared this way expresses feelings too emotional for mere words.

    Reply
  7. Ted Norton - October 12, 2020 12:37 pm

    I really enjoy your work and read it first thing every morning. Today’s column was one of your best but with one error! You know; we don’t say restroom in these parts – it’s “bathroom” 😂!

    Reply
  8. Jim - October 12, 2020 12:41 pm

    Until I was a teenager, my SBC Mom impressed upon me & I believed “ When a Baptist gets to the Pearly Gates, you have to hand St. Peter a casserole to gain entrance to heaven !!😎

    Reply
  9. E. Ann Padgett - October 12, 2020 12:59 pm

    Thanks, Sean. I needed this morning’s chuckle and affirmation for sanity’s sake. You come back, now!😉

    Reply
  10. Margaret - October 12, 2020 1:13 pm

    What an ending! No wonder so many people start their day with you, Sean! We love you!!

    Reply
  11. Maria - October 12, 2020 1:20 pm

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah…,,,,,

    Reply
  12. Harriet - October 12, 2020 1:20 pm

    Sometimes we cook to say “thank you”. My brother-in-law has picked up and cracked pecans for me to shell, so I’m making him a blueberry delight today.

    Reply
  13. Deborah L Blount - October 12, 2020 1:30 pm

    Bless your heart. You just couldn’t help yourself. Lol

    Reply
  14. nebraskannie - October 12, 2020 1:35 pm

    I love your description of cooking for cooking’s sake! I’m in a wheelchair now, but I can still feed my family, the farm crews, my neighbors, and I still feel useful. It’s something we learned to do as children and now I see dying, the neighboring, right in front of me. I love your column!

    Reply
  15. Sally Speaker - October 12, 2020 1:38 pm

    🤣🤣🤣

    Reply
  16. Amanda - October 12, 2020 1:40 pm

    Cake batter beats cookie dough any day! One of my earliest memories is of my mother allowing me to “scrape the bowl” with a wooden spoon. I could barely walk but could enjoy it from a spot on the kitchen floor. Manna from heaven –

    Reply
  17. Eddy - October 12, 2020 1:49 pm

    Cake batter, YES!! As kids Grandma would give us some batter in these little blue post-depression metal cups. Best treat ever! Well except for the icing of course. We love Y’all!

    Reply
  18. Katherine - October 12, 2020 1:49 pm

    Sean, I just never want the story to end. Thank you!

    Reply
  19. Susan Parker - October 12, 2020 2:35 pm

    Thanks for the description of the Life of Food People.
    Now that you have had a surgery….I better start up the oven. You need a casserole!

    Reply
  20. Christina - October 12, 2020 2:38 pm

    Love for love’s sake!

    Reply
  21. Gary Rigby - October 12, 2020 3:01 pm

    We have lived this story many times over…mostly from the delivery side until the year 2010. In that year we dealt with breast cancer…and the prior 32 years of food deliveries came back in a rush….so much in fact that we began to have to redirect food to people who needed it more that we did. But, please don’t tell anyone that you have too much…or you don’t need their offering. Food delivery is a form of ministry…an ability to reach out and do something when you can’t “fix” the problem. An opportunity to show that you care for and love the recipient and that you’ll be there for them through whatever trials might come. THAT is what the food is…10 years later everyone is healthy and we’re blessed to be back on the “giving” side…and just looking for the opportunity to bless someone else for the many blessings we have received.

    Reply
  22. GrandSam - October 12, 2020 3:11 pm

    Sally is our 5th golden retriever and our first counter-cruiser. We adopted her when she was 5 y/o. I now know why she was neutered.

    Reply
  23. michellemcteerallen - October 12, 2020 3:15 pm

    I love this so much! Your descriptions are such a spotlight on the beauty of everyday things and everyday people.

    Reply
  24. Dawn Bratcher - October 12, 2020 3:19 pm

    😂🤣👏❤

    Reply
  25. Robert M Brenner - October 12, 2020 4:21 pm

    Well at least being neutered deserves some cake batter to help the recovery! 😍🍰🍵 (I’m guessing that the bowl needs some pre wash cleaning! 😊)

    Reply
  26. Cheryl - October 12, 2020 4:34 pm

    Last sentence made me laugh out loud! 🙂

    Reply
  27. Linda Moon - October 12, 2020 4:59 pm

    I grew up with Baptist food. I love your description of your wife preparing food, and I recently saw her serving you food straight from the oven. You both are now Big Stars on the TV and the Tube! None of my food or kitchen preparation is worthy of viewing…only eating, out of necessity. I’m jealous of Jamie! Give her my compliments, from “Uma”!

    Reply
  28. Shelton A. - October 12, 2020 5:24 pm

    Gotta give your wife her due. She warned you to stay away from the cake batter. How’s life in the boy’s choir?

    Reply
  29. Mike Bone - October 12, 2020 6:47 pm

    Pre-requisites for being a Baptist. Accepting Jesus as your personal savior and a 9 X 13 Pyrex casserole dish.

    Reply
  30. MAM - October 12, 2020 7:04 pm

    HAHA! Thanks for the “smells” and the chuckles.

    Reply
  31. Pat McGilberry - October 12, 2020 9:35 pm

    This is so Baptist.❤

    Reply
  32. Susan - October 12, 2020 11:26 pm

    My husband comes from a long line of great cooks both male and female.He is like your wife in the kitchen. He would prefer I not mess with his utensils, pots, cast iron skillets, and spices/potions. I didn’t quite pick up that gene. We do live in a very small community where folks still take food/casseroles/pies when there has been a death. The small local churches still have covered dish lunches/suppers. Early in our marriage ( circa 1980), I rushed home as we had a covered dish supper. A popular recipe of the time was Veg-All casserole. My plan was to throw that together. I drained two cans of Veg-All in the dish, dumped in Cream of ? Soup, and my mind continued to blank out on the recipe I felt I had memorized. I added salt/pepper and possibly Season All. I knew mayonnaise or sour cream or something of that consistency was missing. We didn’t have either. However, I did have a jar of Cheez Whiz. I stirred it in, crumbled the Ritz Crackers on top, and drizzled with butter. Baked it. Looked and smelled wonderful. Headed to the church to help set up. My husband was meeting me there. We had a full house. Time to eat. My dish was actually empty. I sat across from sister-in-law and her husband to my right, my husband to my left. She was eating and started pointing her fork to the Veg-All casserole on her plate. She couldn’t speak as her mouth was full. Her husband asked if something was bad. She very dramatically shook her head “yes” and continued pointing. I asked if it was really bad. Her head shake was even more dramatic. I finally sputtered out, “I made it.” She almost choked! My brother-in-law literally fell out in the floor laughing hysterically. My husband was mortified because other people had it on their plates. Needless to say, 40 years later I still get kidded about the Veg All Casserole. My husband is more than happy to do the cooking for potlucks, family gatherings, or anytime a dish is needed.

    Reply
  33. Jane - October 13, 2020 12:53 am

    And you deserved it.😁

    Reply
  34. allisvant - October 13, 2020 3:13 am

    Well, I hope you got a double-fingers worth!!

    Reply
  35. jeanlana2 - October 13, 2020 5:10 am

    I laughed alone loudly several times. What fine escapes you give so many of us!

    Reply
  36. David Gibson - October 19, 2020 3:20 am

    I lead grief support groups and grief visit presentations. For the church groups my presentation is titled “More than a Casserole “.
    Your article is so true.
    One other thing. A lot of those containers have return address labels on the bottom to identify the owners. The owners who stole them from the March of Dimes because they didn’t send in a contribution.

    Reply

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