By Lil Nickelson
Cooking great meals and sharing fine dining experiences are an integral part of my family’s traditions and practices. They sparked my passion for cooking and fine dining, and led me to begin writing this column for Harlem World. Reminisce with me for a moment. My late grandmother, Mrs. Lola Mae Jackson, migrated to Harlem from Durham, North Carolina in the mid 1930s (great, great grandmother pictured above). She made a living as a live in cook for over 20 years for well to do Jewish families. Her two older sisters helped her raise her two daughters.
Through shared experiences my grandmother passed on her skills to my Mom, and to me and my two sisters. I can remember at age 5 toasting the bread in the oven for the dressing for our Thanksgiving turkey. We didn’t start calling it “stuffing” until we started buying it in supermarkets out of boxes and bags.
We only ate fresh vegetables, with the exception of a can of cream style corn every now and then. Potatoes or Mac and cheese “out of a box” or pasta “out of a can” never happened. My oldest sister Lena (pictured above on Harlem street) unsuccessfully tried to introduce my Mom to Kraft Macroni and Cheese. “Who ever saw real cheese that yellow,” and “the taste lacked any soul,” were a few of the comments my Mom uttered when she sampled it.
Most of the health issues we face today can be traced back to when we began to move away from our rich, ancestral traditional of making our own food. We worked the land, and then fed every body. In addition to building colonial America, our ancestors also fed her too. Many of our forefathers, male and female, were America’s first chefs. Cook books really didn’t come into existence in this country until after we were free.
Older brother Chucky.
We did get to eat TV dinners when my Dad was on the road driving a load to Florida or on his way heading home. My mother would never serve that to my Dad and call it a meal. And yes, I know the industry has changed dramatically since the late 60s. Today, great chefs have developed healthy frozen food fare.
But the reason you dine out in those same great chef’s restaurants is because they are preparing and serving you fresh food made from quality ingredients, prepared with love. Just like the families of everybody over 40 years old was daily preparing for each other at home. It is time we go back home to our roots.
So I want to challenge you and your being set in “your ways.” I want you to put the disposable plates, plastic cutlery and cups away. I want you to wash your stemware, silverware, stoneware and the china you registered for, but don’t ever use. Start creating some priceless moments at home with your families as we eat healthy, and share our day’s activities with one another. Let’s teach the next generation how to plan a meal, shop, cook, dine and socialize the right way.
We look forward to her ongoing column Dinning with Lil in the coming months.