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Kitchen Stories | The Nation

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Kitchen Stories

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We listen and marvel at how the simple ritual of sharing a table can create family, even among the most unlikely people--in a kitchen as big and raucous as a circus tent or as quiet and intimate as two people sharing a meal from separate worlds.

This essay was adapted from the new paperback edition of Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes and More From NPR's The Kitchen Sisters (Rodale Press.)

About the Author

The Kitchen Sisters
Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, aka the Kitchen Sisters, are co-producers of Hidden Kitchens,on National Public Radio.

Hello, my name is Gabrielle Burton. I used to have a job as a cook for a wonderful man in Boston, a sort of classic WASP, old-style New Englander. He was about 83 and when I left he was 90-something. Dr. Harris would pick me up at college, and we'd wind our way through the cobblestone Cambridge streets, at slower and slower speeds as he aged, to go shopping for dinner, stopping at the small neighborhood grocer, putting two pieces of fresh fish or two chicken breasts on his charge account.

Part of the evening was sitting and eating with him and sharing stories over dinner--me telling him about my college life--Dr. Harris reading me poetry, playing me records of John Cage or some classical music, someone he wanted me to know about. It was a remarkable way of connecting across the generations.

I think young people seem to be increasingly isolated from anyone over the age of 60 in any real way. It seems to me that this is being lost. This is my small kitchen story and I wanted to share it with you.

These small kitchen stories about the private traditions of family, natural and created, contain big ideas about how we can connect, how these connections lessen isolation, and how they delight and bind, and even forge community. People will go to great lengths to find each other, and food is often the way they get there.

Hi, my name is Cindy Van Reedy. I'm calling from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I'm a lesbian and almost every lesbian community in the country comes together regularly through potluck dinners, and Milwaukee is no exception. In fact, I went to Google and typed in "lesbian potluck history" and came up with over seven thousand hits. It's sort of like when three lesbians get together, it's a potluck...

The man cooking burgoo at a kettle in Kentucky called it the fellowship of stirring, standing side by side with your neighbor, making something that links you to the past, present and future of your community. These kitchens connect us in ways that are not always obvious--to each other and to the land itself.

Hello. This is Margaret Fitzgerald Evans. I was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta. My father was a small town doctor who began his practice in the 1940's. Many of his patients were poor and paid him for his services in home-grown vegetables. I remember well waking up in a sweltering humid Mississippi summer morning with paper bags full of ripe corn, beans, tomatoes, turnip greens, cucumbers, green peppers, peas and everything else imaginable piled up on the porch. We ate our dinner at noon every day, hot plates of vegetables, cold bowls of salad and piles of steaming rice. My daddy always said the delta grew cotton and vegetables out of this world. My father taught us respect for the hard-working farmer. We knew that they left the vegetables on our doorstep before daybreak out of pride. We never saw their faces, but Daddy knew who they were and what they did for us. Thank you for listening to my story.

There is the fellowship that comes from tending and feeding each other, and there is the fellowship that comes from listening. This need to be heard and understood and recognized seems as powerful as the primal need to feed and be fed. Food and story are a way to kinship with someone whose face you've never seen, whose work you don't know, whose faith is strange to you, whose experience is not your own--a way of discovering perhaps that you share more than you realize.

Hello, my name is David LaChance at Mt. Holyoke College. Here at the college we have a kosher Halaal dining hall, which means that all of the food which is served there can be eaten both by observant Jews and by observant Muslims. It brings together these two groups on our campus to literally break bread together. The dining hall was opened here on September 13, 2001, at the request of students. It was their idea to have such a place. It is a powerful reminder of the connections between these two very ancient faiths.

In strange and simple ways, food can cross a line, can cut though politics, race, religion. Nineteen-fifties Montgomery civil rights activist Georgia Gilmore looked at a pie and saw a weapon for social change. Her "Club From Nowhere" raised money for the bus boycott movement selling home-baked pies and cakes in the beauty parlors of Montgomery. Today, people around the country see the same power in kolaches, clams, ramps, burgoo--a way to raise money to build a library, fund a fire department, feed the hungry, take care of our elders and our children. In the right hands, in the right region, even a barbequed muskrat has earning potential for some social cause or political candidate.

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