Food Memories Nourishes the Soul

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My brother may have a silly smile on his face, but he’s pretty happy about the food on his plate and the fun we had making it together.

“Do you remember how Mom made chili dog slaw?” my brother Bill asked. “You know, the one that tasted like slaw from Hanson?”

He’s asked the question to my sister Rita and me over the years. And more than once, we’ve mumbled non-descriptive answers. But this time, he wasn’t going to let us get away with a kinda, sorta, made up answer. His wife Diann had tried repeatedly to make the slaw, and because she never ate it or ever saw it, she was at her wits’ end trying to recreate it.

When we started rattling off our usual non-descriptive answer, I tried to deflect the fact we didn’t know by announcing that Vince had nailed our grandmother’s hot potato salad.

“You mean the hot one, with the green onions and eggs?” he asked with piqued interested.

“Yes, that one! Man, I didn’t think I’d ever eat that again,” I said.

“What about Nanaw’s Coconut Cake?” Rita added. “Mamaw Vivian always made one at Christmas. Does anybody have that recipe?”

“I do!”

“But what about the slaw? Does anybody know how Mama made the slaw?”

We shook our heads no, we didn’t. And that’s when I came up with the idea of getting together and making some of our favorite recipes that our mother, grandmothers, and great-grandmother enjoyed.

We pulled out our calendars and planned to get together on Saturday, January 16th. We’d meet at my brother and sister-in-law’s house and cook together. Each of us was tasked with preparing one of the recipes discussed.

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Vince, Rita, and Nick prepare our Grandmother Anna Mae Gentry’s Hot Potato Salad

When Vince and I arrived, the kitchen was already in full swing. My nephew Nick was helping his mom chop vegetables for the slaw. Rita had the cake ready, so she jumped in with Vince and me to quickly peel potatoes. Diann and I had both made chili for the hot dogs. And I had brought a bunch of turnip greens to go along with the hot potato salad.

It was a mixed-up menu, but each dish represented a thousand memories.

As we waited for the potatoes to boil, we explained to those who never experienced Mrs. Ligion’s coleslaw just how wonderful it tasted.

Mrs. Ligion operated a small drive up hut in Hanson. There’s is no telling how many hot dogs and ice cream cones were served out her pass-thru window. Her famous slaw dressed hot dogs and her famous footlong chili dogs. When Mrs. Ligion sold the establishment to her daughter, the hut became Kim’s Drive In sometime in the 1970’s. Later, it sold again. Sometime in the 1980’s, it closed. The little hut in Hanson, along Highway 41, had been a community institution. It was where everybody went after church. On hot summer evenings, station wagons and pickup trucks were parked all around it after softball games. Every little town in America had their version of Ligion’s. But only Hanson’s little hut had that sweet-and-sour slaw that mother had duplicated time and time again and my brother desperately wanted to taste once more.

With the meal ready and quickly blessed, each of us piled our plates. It was delicious. Every bite held a memory. Vince had once again recreated my grandmother Gentry’s hot potato salad. Diann did an outstanding job with the slaw. Frankly, I think it’s better than the original.

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My sister Rita tackled our Great-Grandmother Lelia Hailey’s Coconut Cake.

After lunch, I shared our family tree via ancestry.com. I’ve spent years collecting our family history, and in the past few months, I’ve been able to complete all the information back four generations (and beyond for some). It seemed a good time to share the new information after our lunch.

Afterwards, Rita sliced into her coconut cake which was delicious. Like so many family recipes, this coconut cake is different than most. It’s basically a white cake with thick coconut icing.

I loved sharing the stories and the food with my nephew Nick, who enjoys cooking. It was befitting to pass this experience to the next generation and hopefully, he’ll pass it on to the next.

 

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