I spent the last ten days of August at my parents’ house in New Jersey. They have a mother-daughter home with a fully furnished apartment in the basement, with a kitchen nicer and larger than the main one upstairs. They bought this home shortly after my grandfather died and it is where my grandmother came to live, surrounded by her family, with weekly visits from her grandchildren and great-children until she passed away a little more than two years ago. She was a role model for me in so many ways (compassionate, patient, generous) but especially in the kitchen. The meals she prepared were not gourmet by any means, however they were good and hearty – the kind of suppers that put “meat on your bones!”
I grew up at her kitchen table – the same table that sits in the kitchen in the basement of my parents’ home. Though the location has changed in the last 12 years or so, the table, sturdy enough to have survived the lifting and dropping by some big, gnarly-fisted moving men in bad moods and sharp turns in a rusting van, has not.
During visits back “home” my husband, kids and I always stay downstairs in Grandma’s apartment where I continue to sit at her kitchen table, though no longer with her across from me, arms folded while her fingers smooth the crease of a folded napkin.
My last night in New Jersey, while my little family slept, my father snored upstairs and presumably my mother had drifted off to an old black and white movie in their bedroom, I sat at my Grandmother’s table and began to carefully unwrap a piece of fudge I bought on the boardwalk that week on a trip to the Jersey Shore. It was my grandmother who first introduced me to such indulgence and she did it without apology or concern about whether or not it would wind up on her ample hips.
My grandmother taught me that food is good! That ingredients should be real- real butter, real sugar and real meat. Rich foods are to be enjoyed- every bite – all in moderation and most importantly, that guilt is a huge waste of a woman’s time.
So I sat there in perfect solitude and I enjoyed the gift of fudge. Fudge from Shriver’s, 9th Street and Boardwalk. Chocolate fudge, not chocolate with walnuts, not chocolate – marshmallow, not double-chocolate and never Peanut Butter and Jelly flavored or Maple. As for white chocolate? Why bother.
Just plain, smooth chocolate since 1898 – a quarter-pound the size and shape of a stick of butter. Slicing my third pat with the plastic knife the professional staff at the candy store thoughtfully included inside the white paper bag, I was achingly aware that one more after this and I’d be sick. Slowly I savored the richness and darkness of that last soft bite. Pulling a piece of pure joy off gently with my teeth, I flattened it to the roof of my mouth with my tongue, spreading it over every eager tastebud until it disappeared in my mouth, becoming part of me.
Every summer – fudge from the boardwalk, fresh from the Jersey Shore, steps from the ocean. Every summer, like fudge, I savor my family, my childhood friendships, my memories. I celebrate my roots and my grandmother. Because without her I would never know fudge.