No funeral gloom was to be found in the hallways of Restland Funeral Home in Dallas on Friday of last week. The next-of-kin was handing out recipe books to those who arrived to pay their respects!
This certainly didn't mean that Kay Hall and her family members weren't deeply grieved that their mom, Janelle Ellis Gilstrap, 84, had passed from this life. No words exist to adequately describe the profound sense of loss when one's mother is gone from this earth.
But this celebration of Mrs. Gilstrap's homegoing to heaven also was a commemoration of her life as a "Proverbs 31" woman--and how she frugally guarded her food dollar during tight times and cooked extraordinary meals on a shoestring budget.
Some of those extraordinary meals were remembered in the booklet called "Janelle's Favorite Recipes for You" that Kay distributed as loved ones and friends filed in for visitation. What a neat idea--and a neat keepsake to cherish in recalling the deceased person! I felt as if I knew Mrs. Gilstrap a little better after I read about her favorite foods to prepare--many of them from garden yield.
Kay has been my friend since junior high. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding in 1969 and has done an above-and-beyond job of keeping in touch although we've lived apart for most of the years we've known each other. I'll never forget how thoughtful her mother was when I visited the Gilstrap home while I was a college student. After she learned I was on a diet (aren't we always?), she quickly scrambled to serve me something healthy that she knew was legit on my "eating plan".
After Kay handed me my souvenir copy of Mrs. Gilstrap's recipes, I lamented the fact that I hadn't possessed them months earlier so I could include a few in my new cookbook, Way Back in the Country Garden. Mrs. Gilstrap, born in Jewett, TX, was a thorough East Texas cook who certainly would have resonated with my recipes from six generations of my East Texas farm family. Kay told me that many of Janelle’s recipes were obtained from Mrs. Gilstrap's own mother, Bertha Ellis.
Cooks of her day (represented by many of the moms and grandmas of us Baby Boomers) lived through the Depression and therefore had to become highly resourceful. As a result many of them became "Gourmet Country Cooks". They used what they had, which often was little and was represented merely by what they could pick from the garden patch outdoors, and learned to cook it "to the max"--creatively and inventively, with whatever was on hand. A few of these in Kay's mom's collection included Sweet Potato Souffle, Homemade Vegetable Beef Soup (featured below), and Pickled Peach Salad.
What Kay did in handing out recipes to funeralgoers underscored the precise premise of my two cookbooks--that linking recipes to those who prepared them is a critical part of preserving a family's history and that a part of us lives on when food items that we popularized are served again and again with the simple mention that, "Oh, this is chocolate pie just like Great-Aunt Gertie prepared." Younger ones who didn’t know Great-Aunt Gertie will still carry a special memory of her when they consume her legendary pie.
So thank you, Mrs. Gilstrap, for giving to the world your daughter, whom I count as a special friend, but especially for these recipes that will enable many of us to try to replicate your cooking abilities long after you've become a veteran of heaven. I salute cooks such as you who can teach us much about being good stewards and about making the most of what we have.
Homemade Vegetable Beef Soup
1 pound lean meat
1 onion, chopped
(Boil meat and onion in water. Meat may be cooked separately at first to degrease.)
4 carrots, sliced
4 potatoes, cubed
(Cook 5-10 minutes.)
1 can tomato soup
1 can tomato paste
1 can corn (or fresh corn cut from cob)
1 can green peas
(Cook until carrots and potatoes are done.)
1 cup macaroni.
(Cook until macaroni is done.)