By LaKeshia N. Myers
I don’t remember my maternal grandmother; “Big Mama”, as she was affectionately called, passed when I was about a year old. My relationship to her has been largely derived through family memories and photographs. It also has, strangely, materialized through my love of baking. According to family members my grandmother was a savant of sorts when it came to baking desserts. She would create specialty pies and cakes for members of the community that were always a hit. As I have grown older, I have developed a penchant for baking. I search for old recipes and try to recreate ones that I’ve heard about from older family members, cataloging them for future use, so they don’t become extinct.
February is the month in which we celebrate Black History, but it is also Great American Pie Month. The valuable relationship to Black culture and cuisine is unparalleled. For me, baking has also served a dual purpose, it serves as an opportunity to spend quality time with some of the older women in my family as well as the opportunity to unearth more family mysteries. The gathering and baking process is one that is rich with cultural significance—understanding regional berries that are native to my mother’s homestead. Who knew Big Mama grew Muscadine grapes? What did her vinegar pie taste like? My favorite was finding her recipe for water pie—a dessert she made during the Great Depression.
Slices of cake or pie are often accompanied by stories of times past and a kaleidoscope of memories. Folks who say, “girl, this tastes good—just like Mama’s” or “remember when”. It offers a millennial like me blessed assurance that the baking prowess of my grandmother epigenetically passed to me. It also helps me understand her—her life, her struggles, her achievements just a bit more. I have learned that our family likes to commune around food—but it’s the dessert that is the star of the show. With every event, we share our story, one slice at a time.