My maternal and paternal grandmothers were born in 1932 and 1918, respectively, and it is because of them that I love the kitchen.
My paternal grandmother passed before I was able to cultivate a relationship with her, in or out of the kitchen. Despite my not knowing her, beyond having knowledge that my first name is in honor of her, I know one thing for sure, she sure could cook.
I was nine years old when she died. My parents had divorced, my mom and I had moved away and the news of her passing was my first instance of familial loss. At her funeral, someone stood up and read a letter to comfort our family as we dealt with her death. It was signed and sealed by President Ronald Reagan.
My grandmother worked as a baker in the Blair House during his tenure in the White House. He would call her home in Northeast D.C. or send a message via his office in special request for one of her apple pies. When foreign diplomats would often frequent 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, their dining requests always included one thing—a slice of her homemade apple pie and ice cream. While my memories of her are vague, I clung to the stories my dad would share about the love of his mother and her love for food.
My mom’s mom, she made a pound cake that made you glad you arrived on time for dinner. That was the qualifications for getting a good slice. She is the one who taught me patience.
Every holiday or summer visit, I would stand along side her in the kitchen attempting to emulate the cooking practices she created. It often worked, other times it failed and I would try again. Eventually I learned to master some of her specialties—mac and cheese and fried chicken, lasagna and cornbread, sweet potato pie and brownies, cabbage and collard greens, fried corn and fresh green beans—the southern staples she learned from her mother in her childhood home in Abbeville, South Carolina.
When she was diagnosed with dementia, I became tasked with taking on the kitchen the way she did for years and years with ease. All the countless times of standing along side her, watching and taste-testing, chopping and stirring, guided me into infusing her recipes and a few of my own into Thanksgiving and Easter meals—desserts included.
Cooking with these women in mind, one who I hadn’t known but whose legacy carried me through life and the other who shaped my existence until her dying day, taught me the magic of preparing a meal. The trial and error, the comfort and the compliment and overwhelming joy that comes with trying something new and succeeding. It’s why cooking is such a therapeutic practice and it’s why it will always be something I enjoy. With each culinary creation, I master a connection with two women who have helped shape me.
Lauren Porter (@LJSP_writes) is the editorial intern for ESSENCE.com and a recent graduate of Syracuse University. She reports on entertainment and lifestyle news.