Toni’s Corner

Waves of Gravy

Mar 1, 2023

My cooking style has changed ever since my grandmother passed last March.  At work, but especially at home…I’m more intentional.  I want to remember her in everything I cook.  I’ve started adding the bouillon cubes she would use.  I make sure my seasoned flour is just right for frying, even shaking it with the meat in bags like she would do.   I’ve started making greens with the hamhocks AND smoked turkey.  I’m just wanting to make sure I take care in everything I make.

For the longest time, I feared homemade gravy.  I made it in culinary school because I was forced to, but at home…I was a gravy mix packet queen.  I would always add a bit more to it; sauté some onions and garlic or braised mushrooms.  I just didn’t think I had it in me to make it completely from scratch like my Bigmama.

Recently, I’ve had the strongest urge to make everything I can from scratch.  I started making pasta dough again and leaning into homemade bread.  My grandma was not into making either of these things from scratch, but I feel closer to her when I’m in the kitchen taking my time.  I wrote a blog last year about feeling like I was cheating her legacy by using processed things and not truly cooking everything from the very basic ingredients at EMM.  This morning I was reminded of her Walmart chicken dinners.

Every 4th Sunday after the movie Soul Food came out, my Bigmama would cook lunch.  She was obsessed with that movie and started having Friends and Family dinner.  My family and friends from church would come to her house and sit down for a meal.  Bigmama believed in the Lord and came to church a lot, but she definitely didn’t mind missing service to cook!  Sometimes if she didn’t have much time, it was Walmart Chicken and Mushroom Gravy Day.  I hated those days!

I grew up loathing chicken on the bone, but Bigmama did NOT care.  On these particular Sundays, she would go to Walmart and buy a family pack of their fried chicken.  She would then cover it with a couple cans of mushroom gravy and milk and simmer it.  She would serve it with vegetables and rice.  I never wanted it!  The little tidbits of soggy breading from the chicken, the messiness; I would whine every time.  Most times I would scoop the gravy over rice and call it good.  Sometimes I couldn’t avoid the dreaded bone-in chicken since she would be peering over me to see what I put on my plate.  Even now at my ripe age of 37, I shudder at that chicken dish.

I haven’t thought about that dish in years, but I was reminded that even she took shortcuts if it meant a way to still gather her family for a meal.  (Her smothered steak gravy is still unmatched.)  So as I journey through new things to cook, I try to remember, as long as there is love put in everything you make, just cook it.  Stop trying to prove yourself to Bigmama, you already have…whether from scratch or by mix. Just make the gravy.