Averyell A. Kessler
It’s a holiday secret from way back, but it’s important. The kitchen table is a lot more fun than in the one in the dining room. Thanksgiving proved it, and with Christmas traditions on the way, I’m sure the secret still holds. The kitchen table is especially fun when multiple cooks, male and female, young and old, novices and the ultimate source of culinary knowledge, the oldest cook in the room, scramble to get dinner ready. It’s a mixture of Ina Garten’s latest and greatest, Uncle R’s ancient turkey frying pot, and Nana’s dressing pan that’s as wide as a rowboat and deep enough to feed the entire congregation of the Baptist church down the road. Kitchen table wisdom is a combination of technique, enthusiasm, and a few sly comments – “Honey, I hope you added more than a few fingers of bourbon to the eggnog.”
I’m fully aware that great effort goes into a glorious dining room table; wedding china is dusted off, crystal glasses are carefully washed, and recently polished silver shines like the morning sun. There’s also as the eternal question of how to squeeze fifteen people around a table that seats twelve. (I don’t know, but somehow it works). For me, the old banged up table in the kitchen is just as special. It’s the heart of the house. That’s where laughter begins, where old stories are told, and family cooks sit and talk while the pies bake, baby pictures for shown, and we discuss how to stop Uncle A from adding his fiery spices to the turkey gravy as well as a rough-cut collection of gizzards. All we need is a good pot of coffee, or something stronger, and our laughter draws everyone. Even those addicted to a roaring football game in the den may drift in to join the fun and sneak a taste of fresh cranberry relish. In my view, the dining room table is the front door, rarely opened but useful for welcoming visitors. The kitchen table is the back door, where friends and family come piling in and the fun begins.
A confession, I have never purchased a kitchen table, and I don’t intend to. I acquired mine in the usual passed down way; it’s old, blessed with a pattern of scratches, and may wobble if not positioned in just the right spot. The table is a 1940’s rattan cast off that once served as my grandfather’s fan tan table and jig saw puzzle spot. I can only imagine how many late-night card games it’s seen or the number of 1000- piece monsters solved there, but it remains as a modest old man and one of my cherished possessions.
There was an earlier kitchen table too, an oval one my family used on Laurel Street during my growing up years in Belhaven. On that table I plowed through arithmetic workbooks, learned to write brief words on a wide lined tablet, and made a paper mache map of the state of Mississippi. Wow! What a mess. The table was also party central; here we sprinkled red and green sugar on fresh baked cookies, wrapped birthday presents, dyed Easter eggs and ate heaping bowls of ice cream from Daddy’s hand crank freezer.
It was also part of my daily routine. Every morning before school, while I sat dressed, pony tailed and saddle shoed, Mama read to me as I sipped milk and piddled with my corn flakes. I was still in the Dick and Jane stage of learning to read, and she wanted to make sure that I heard all the stories she loved best. She purchased a brass bookstand and we turned the pages together. Raggedy Anne was first, followed by Raggedy Andy, then Beloved Belindy and Marcella. The Borrowers came next and Mama convinced my that it was entirely possible that a tiny family secretly lived behind the walls of our house and borrowed things from the big people. Every two weeks we made a trip to the library and selected the next books. I always begged for Treasure Island, but she said I was too young. Eventually she worked in Alice in Wonderland, and the Cheshire Cat became one of my favorites. One day, I noticed that I could read the words along with her; and except for “curiouser and curiouser” and “lobster quadrille,” I kept up the pace. Suddenly, I was reading on my own and welcomed Nancy Drew and Tom Sawyer into my life. My mother had never heard of home schooling, but she taught me well. The table was a critical asset.
Mama gave the table away when we moved to Avery Gardens. Formica caught her eye and our rickety old table wasn’t wanted in our new home. When I saw it disappear in the back of a furniture moving pickup, I didn’t realize its importance. But that’s part of growing up. The old table was replaced by a shiny new one without a soul or a story to tell. Perhaps that why I cling to WG’s damaged relic in my kitchen. I’ve had a lot of fun around my old table, especially on celebration days when the kitchen overflows with good food and busy cooks as well as laughter, rising yeast rolls, and grandchildren’s sticky fingerprints. It’s where the fun starts and a renewal of the heart begins. It welcomes my family of birth as well as family of choice. It’s home.
The late Chef Paul Prudhomme said, “You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.” Right on chef.You don’t need a dining room table either. The humble one in the kitchen will do just fine.