My mother ran the kitchen like clockwork and there was nothing that made her happier than preparing the annual summer family feast. Out of doors appetites are apt to be huge, and mother never let anyone go away hungry.
The year I turned seven was the first year I was allowed to help. While mother washed potatoes, got out bottles of pickles and okra and complained about the cost of flour, I ran to-ing and fro-ing, getting her the things she hadn’t known she’d want until just that moment.
“Tell Edwin to sharpen that axe,” she’d say, and I’d run outdoors and tell him quick as that.
“Take the buttermilk out of the cellar,” she’d say, and I’d bring it up, thick and chilled in a crockery pitcher.
“There’s elderberry wine for your uncle William,” she’d say. “Just leave it there for now, I don’t want to be giving it out to the whole family.” I went down there anyway and tasted it. Not very good. Kinda sour and bitter, not near as good as cough syrup.
The week went by fast, multiple preparations, pies to make, chickens to kill. Old chickens are stringy and tough, but bake them long enough in buttermilk in a deep casserole with a lot of potatoes and they come out okay. It was a hard year, I guess, but a feast is a feast, even if it’s spread a little thin.
Fortunately for us, there was a salesman came by in a wagon passing by on his way from Kansas to California. He had what he called crudités in his wagon, which looked like picked cauliflower and carrots to me, but it had a good sound to it. He talked to mother about how to handle chicken to keep it tender. Resist the temptation to toss, he said, while showing her how to handle those scrawny wrung out birds like they were made of silk, turning them gently in the flour then dunking in egg and browning them like they were royal damn peacocks or something.
What you need is some bigger meat for your feast, he said. And some fresh greens. I got a friend in Lawrence been raising lettuce and cucumber. Mother didn’t know about that. They sounded French to her. She’d also figured out that this salesman was probably going to hang around long enough to get himself invited. Father said go get it, then. He always did want to have the biggest best newest of everything, French or not, and especially so at the annual feast. So the salesman went, and came back with slabs of ribs lying on ice, with lettuce and cucumbers wrapped in soft cloths and tucked in between.