San Anselmo, California
This is a story about the Food of Love.
Shortly after returning to California from the
Morris Girls’ Road Trip, I sent my childhood friend,
Martha Jean Webster, a roundtrip Rapid Rewards
ticket on Southwest Airline to fly from Seattle
to Oakland for an in-person reunion over a long
weekend at my house in San Anselmo.
From the moment she arrived, we took up where
we left off, not as children, but as women, like
old friends rediscovering the qualities that bound
us together, what we have in common now, and how
very much alike we still are, after fifty-five
years of separation.
During Martha’s visit, we laughed and cried, and
talked and reflected. We inquired into the meaning
and purpose of our lives being rejoined at this
We both have had unsuccessful marriages. Martha
married three times, one union producing two daughters,
and she has three grandchildren. Martha’s last
marriage of twenty-five years, ended a year ago,
and she is now learning to live on her own, independently,
for the first time in her life.
I’ve been married and divorced twice. I had one
miscarriage at the age of forty, but was never
able to have biological children. I told Martha
about my Tibetan foster daughter, Namgyal, who
died at the age of twenty-two just ten days before
coming to the U.S. for the first time. But, I
said, “I have a Tibetan family in Lhasa, and I’ve
been blessed with two granddaughters by Namgyal’s
eldest brother, Tenzin Tsephel.”
And, we have both left the religious traditions
of our families. Martha’s family was strict Southern
Baptist (no dancing, drinking, playing cards,
etc.), and we were Methodist. Yet, we’ve both
had a life-long yearning for a connection to the
Divine, and have pursued different spiritual paths
that have taken us in similar directions. We have
an abiding faith in love.
Martha was told as a child that she “talked too
much” and still to this day, some of my friends
say the same about me. We got a big laugh out
of that similarity because we’re storytellers.
Everyone has a story to tell, but we also know
how to listen. Someone once said, “Gossip is a
form of oral history,” and I think there’s a lot
to be learned about life from sharing our stories
with one other.
There were many mundane things we found that we
have in common. We will only eat one brand of
peanut butter: Laura Scudder’s Old Fashioned ‘Smooth’
Peanut Butter. We don’t drink coffee, we love
roses and wisteria, and bright-colored clothes.
We’re like two peas in a pod in many ways.
We’ve come to an awareness, through years of soul
searching, that our self-esteem is not predicated
on the praise or criticism of others; husbands,
lovers, friends or family, employers or acquaintances.
It comes from looking into our heart and knowing
that our essence is love.
And, most profoundly, felt deeply at the core
of our being, is the realization that happiness
is not created by external forces or circumstances,
but by our own actions and the way in which we
walk in the world.
It’s easy to talk the talk, but walking the walk
is another matter all together. It cannot be done
alone. Our conclusion is that Martha Jean and
Jane Clair have been reunited to support and encourage
each other to continue on the journey to explore
and inquire into the true nature of reality, and
not to be afraid of the dark.
On a perfect mid-summer Sunday afternoon in Marin
County, not too hot, with a soft breeze wafting
through the trees, I hosted a Garden Party and
House Concert in honor of Martha Jean, to introduce
her to my circle of friends and extended family,
the community I had created for myself as an adult.
During the party, I would introduce Martha as
my long lost childhood friend, and at one point
she turned to me and said, “We’re so much alike,
you should just say that we were fraternal twins
separated at birth.” And so I did, to everyone’s
The party was a potluck Southern Supper. Paula
LeDuc brought her famous minted iced tea, Ivan
Thatcher made cole slaw and his family’s pulled
pork recipe from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Martha
made deviled eggs, and there was a variety of
summer vegetable salads, heirloom tomatoes that
were in season, and corn on the cob. Someone brought
triangle slices of cold, juicy sweet watermelon.
Jim Kessler, Sr. (who had retired in Leesburg
with his wife, Elizabeth, but now lives nearby
in California since her death) brought his delicious
homemade “Fantasy Fudge” for dessert.
My caterer made fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits
from recipes in Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis’s
book, THE GIFT OF SOUTHERN COOKING. I met Scott
at Chez Panisse in January, and we’ve become dear
friends. Printed along with the Chez Panisse menu
was a previously unpublished essay written by
Miss Lewis in June 1992, but not discovered until
after her death in 2006 at the age of eighty-nine.
Here is the opening paragraph:
WHAT IS SOUTHERN?
Written by Edna Lewis
“How did southern food come into being? The
early cooking of southern food was primarily
done by blacks, men, and women. In the home,
in hotels, in boardinghouses, on boats, on trains,
and at the White House. Cooking is hard and
demanding. It was then, and it still is now.
What began as hard work became creative work.
There is something about the South that stimulates
creativity in people, be they black or white,
writers, artists, cooks, builders, or primitives
that pass away without knowing they were talented.
It is also interesting to note that the South
developed the only cuisine in this country.
Living in a rural setting is inspiring: Birds,
the quiet, flowers, trees, gardens, fields,
music, love, sunshine, rain, and the smells
of the earth all play a part in the world of
creativity. It has nothing to do with reading
or writing. Many of those cooks could not read
Scott is the Executive Chef and co-owner of Watershed
Restaurant in Decatur, Georgia. While Kitty and
I were in Atlanta visiting our cousin Kenny Franks,
we went to the restaurant and ate our way through
the entire lunch menu, sampling every single dish.
Scott had the leftovers boxed up for us to eat
on the road as we continued our journey through
Georgia that afternoon.
As best I can remember, Mother made biscuits
almost every day while we lived in Leesburg. She
was a good cook, and her fried chicken was to
die for. Mother’s recipe was similar to Scott’s
and Miss Lewis’s recipe, except that it was only
soaked in buttermilk. She also flavored her frying
fat (Crisco) by cooking a few pieces of country
ham in the cast iron skillet before frying the
Following is an excerpt written by Scott from
THE GIFT OF SOUTHERN COOKING, as well as their
We have blended our best chicken-frying tips
from Virginia (Miss Lewis) and Alabama (Scott)
in this recipe: it requires a bit of extra effort,
but the results are absolutely outstanding.
The chicken gets two long soaks, Alabama-style,
first in brine and then in buttermilk. The frying
fat is a special mix—Virginia-style—of lard
and sweet butter, flavored with a slice of country
ham, which makes the chicken extra crispy and
rich-tasting. The cornstarch in the dredge adds
to the crispness, too. Carefully cooked, fried
chicken will absorb a minimal amount of fat.
Be sure to pat off all excess dredge; fry evenly
at the proper temperature; and drain the chicken
well on crumpled-up—not flat—paper towels or
a wire rack.
Southern Pan-Fried Chicken
One 3-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces, brined
for 8-12 hours (see page 95 of their book)
1 quart buttermilk
1 pound lard
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup country-ham pieces, or 1 thick slice
country ham cut into 1/2-inch strips
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
To prepare the chicken for frying: Drain the
brined chicken and rise out the bowl it was
brined in. Return the chicken to the bowl, and
pour the buttermilk over. Cover and refrigerate
for 8-12 hours. Drain the chicken on a wire
rack, discarding the buttermilk.
Meanwhile, prepare the fat for frying by putting
the lard, butter, and country ham into a heavy
skillet or frying pan. Cook over low heat for
30-40 minutes, skimming as needed, until the
butter ceases to throw off foam and the country
ham is browned. Use a slotted spoon to remove
the ham carefully from the fat. Just before
frying, increase the temperature to medium-high
and heat the fat to 335° F.
Prepare the dredge by blending together the
flour, cornstarch, salt, and pepper in a shallow
bowl or on wax paper. Dredge the drained chicken
pieces thoroughly in the flour mixture, then
pat well to remove all excess flour.
Slip some of the chicken pieces, skin side
down, into the heated fat. (Do not overcrowd
the pan, and fry in batches if necessary.) Cook
for 8-10 minutes on each side, until the chicken
is golden brown and cooked through.
Drain thoroughly on a wire rack or on crumpled
paper towels, and serve. Fried chicken is delicious
eaten hot, warm, at room temperature, or cold.
Makes enough to serve 4.
THE GIFT OF SOUTHERN COOKING
Recipes and Revelations from Two Great American
Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock with David Nussbaum
Photographs by Christopher Hirsheimer
Alfred A. Knopf New York Published 2006
When Jim and I were older and Kitty had started
school, Daddy would prepare the breakfast at our
house in Lakeland. He was always an early riser,
getting up around five o’clock in the morning.
Mother was a night owl; I took after Mother. To
this day, on the weekend, I like to sleep ‘til
the “crack of noon.”
And, I remember in high school when I’d come
home late from a dance at the Youth Center, Mother
would still be up, puttering around the house,
straightening this and that. Many nights she’d
say, “Honey, let’s have a midnight snack,” and
we would stand side-by-side at the kitchen sink
peeling grapefruits that had recently been picked
from a tree in our backyard. We’d sprinkle each
grapefruit with salt (not sugar), and leaning
over the sink, eat the whole thing with our hands.
It was one of our special moments together.
Just before dawn was Daddy’s favorite time of
day. He had the house to himself and could read
the newspaper in peace before starting to make
breakfast, which was always bountiful. He’d scrambled
eggs and fry bacon and sausage and make toast
and coffee, served always with fresh-squeezed
Florida orange juice. Sometimes we’d have fried
chicken livers with onions or grits and slices
of a home-cured country ham whenever one was brought
back from the family farm in North Carolina. We
would eat off those hams for weeks, and when there
was country ham in the house, Mother would make
biscuits for breakfast before rushing off to work
at Clifford’s Beauty Salon.
Daddy would complain about my getting up so late
and not sitting down at the kitchen table to have
breakfast. He’d tell me to “slow down and smell
the roses,” but usually, I’d take two pieces of
toast, spread them with grape jelly and make a
bacon sandwich, or grab a ham and biscuit sandwich,
which I’d eat on the way to school, washed down
with a bottle of Coca-Cola.
Mother’s recipe for buttermilk biscuits was in
her head, and, went with her to the grave, however,
the taste and texture of Scott Peacock’s Buttermilk
Biscuits in THE GIFT OF SOUTHERN COOKING seems
very similar to Mother’s:
Hot Crusty Buttermilk Biscuits
5 cups sifted all-purpose four (measured after
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1/4 pound) packed lard, chilled
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Preheat over to 500° F. Put the flour,
baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl, and
whisk well to blend thoroughly. Add the lard,
and, working quickly, coat it in flour and rub
between your fingertips until approximately
half the lard is finely blended and the other
half remains in large pieces, about 1/2 inch
in size. Pour in the buttermilk, and stir quickly
just until the dough is blended and begins to
Turn the dough immediately out onto a floured
surface, and with floured hands kneed briskly
eight to ten times, until it becomes cohesive.
Gently flatten the dough with your hands into
a disk of even thinness; then, using a floured
rolling pin, roll it out to a uniform thickness
of 1/2 inch. With a dinner fork dipped in flour,
pierce the dough completely through at 1/2-inch
intervals. Lightly flour a 2 1/2- or 3-inch
biscuit cutter and stamp out rounds, without
twisting the cutter in the dough. Cut the biscuits
from the dough as close together as you can,
for maximum yield. Transfer them to a parchment-lined
baking sheet, placing them so that they just
barely kiss. Don’t reroll the scraps. Just arrange
them around the edge of the sheet, and bake
Put the baking sheet immediately on the center
rack of the preheated oven. Bake 10-12 minutes,
checking after 6 minutes or so, and turning
the pan if needed for even baking. When the
biscuits are golden brown, remove from the over
and brush the tops with the melted butter. Makes
about fifteen 2 1/2-inch Biscuits.
Over Labor Day weekend this year, Scott came
to San Francisco to participate in the Slow Food
Stacy Finz, Staff Writer for the San Francisco
Chronicle newspaper wrote, “Try telling San Franciscans
to avoid talking politics at the dinner table,
and they’ll laugh in your face. In the Bay Area,
politics and food go together like heirloom tomatoes
and fresh mozzarella. That’s one of the reasons
restaurateur Alice Waters and the organization
Slow Food USA chose San Francisco for the first-ever
Slow Food Nation, an ambitious four-day political
“Organizers of the event hope to change the
country’s food policy one stomach at a time by
promoting foods that are produced using eco-friendly
farming and fair labor practices… When it’s over,
Waters and the other Slow Food movers and shakers
plan to beat down the doors of Congress with a
declaration and petition demanding an overhaul
of the American food system.”
“The one we have is making us sick,” Waters
said, referring to the multitude of health problems
in this country that are related to obesity, diabetes,
and poor nutrition, “and it’s ruining our planet
and hurting us socially.” “But for now, Slow Food
Nation and San Francisco are a marriage made in
There is growing awareness that we have become
a nation where corporate agriculture is destroying
the soil and ecosystems with chemicals, and a
general public that has been fed by consumer advertising
to consume processed and fast food instead of
During World War II, shortly after I was born,
40% of the nation’s produce came from people’s
individual Victory Gardens in their own backyards,
and not only was it healthier, it was cheaper.
The slow food movement is a big step in the direction
of raising healthy kids and creating a healthy
planet, with the emphasis on sustainable, locally
grown, seasonal foods.
Much of my family life as a child centered around
food; the growing, preparation, cooking, and eating
of it together around the kitchen or dinner table.
It was a nourishing experience, both literally
and figuratively. Sunday dinner (noon meal) was
always a feast, no matter how poor we were. Mother
had a vegetable garden in her back yard well into
her seventies. Jimmy video taped her weeding her
garden one day and sticking the hoe in the ground,
she looked directly into the camera and said,
“Jane, you and Kitty come see me sometime soon,
The Slow Food Nation events were held at Fort
Mason, and at Civic Center Plaza where I went
to see Scott. There were dozens of venders cooking
and serving a wide variety of foods all around
the plaza, as well as a farmers’ market and tours
of the Victory Garden, a former stretch of City
Hall lawn now planted with vegetables.
As I approached his booth, I saw Scott, assisted
by several staffers from Watershed Restaurant,
making buttermilk biscuits served with Benton’s
Smoky Mountain Country Ham from Tennessee, and
some of Scott’s homemade raspberry jam on the
side. They were selling like “hot cakes” and there
was a long line of patiently waiting customers.
Watching from the sidelines, I observed Scott,
wearing a long white apron over his street clothes,
kneading the dough with his hands, rolling it
with his own wooden rolling pin that he had brought
from Georgia, stamping out the biscuits and transferring
them to trays to be baked on racks in an upright
oven inside the booth. He was totally focused
on every step of the process, his hands moving
with the precision of a Zen Master writing calligraphy.
The thinly sliced smoked ham was being slightly
cooked on a flat top grill, and then assembled
when the biscuits were golden brown.
Scott didn’t notice I was there for several minutes.
I felt like I was in a meditative state and the
object of the meditation was the art of making
biscuits. Everything going on around me seemed
to fall away, and my focus was totally in the
realm of the senses, enraptured by the smell of
hot biscuits and fried ham. When Scott looked
up between kneading batches of dough and saw me,
he came outside the booth and gave me a big hug,
dusting me from head to toe with flour. It was
a delicious moment.
I spent the next hour inside the booth, up close
and personal with the dough which Scott let me
touch to “feel” the texture. And, fresh out of
the oven, I ate half a dozen biscuits with ham
Getting back to the party at my house for Martha
Jean, Freddy Clarke strolled around the garden
strumming his beautiful guitar. There were children
running through the house and garden, playing
hide-and-go-seek. The conversation was lively,
and the wine flowed freely.
Some guests were sitting outdoors at round tables
covered with floral oil cloth tablecloths and
centerpieces of bright red miniature roses in
little French tin pots, while others sat on the
lawn on quilts and blankets with overstuffed pillows
along side a flower bed of pink, blue and white
hydrangeas in full bloom.
Living under the shade of five ancient oak trees,
growing roses has been a labor of love during
the twenty-eight years I’ve lived on Medway Road.
Yet with the help of Angela and Tom Campbell who
tend them, throughout the summer I’m blessed with
a healthy assortment of brilliant colored blooms,
and have enough roses to fill several vases of
cut flowers to enjoy inside the house as well.
Just before the “house concert” began as the
late afternoon sun flooded the garden with an
amber glow, I read an excerpt from Graham Stuart
Thomas’s book, “The Old Shrub Roses,” originally
published in London in 1917. It was the first
book published about the rediscovery of the ‘lost’
roses from gardens in Europe and in the United
States in the early nineteenth century. Going
back to Victorian, Medieval and even Roman eras,
the shrub roses of those times (as distinct from
the modern varieties) have regained popularity
The foreword to Mr. Thomas’s book was written
by the Vita Sackville-West, the Honorable Lady
Nicolson, (1892-1962) who was an English poet,
novelist and gardener. She was famous for her
exuberant aristocratic life, her strong marriage,
and her passionate affairs with women, among them
the novelist Virginia Woolfe.
Foreword by V. Sackville-West
“I remember that many years ago, in the bazaars
of Constantinople, we used sometimes to spend
a fabulous, Arabian-tale of an afternoon, not
propped on banks of amaranth and moly, but on
divans and cushions in the warehouse of a great
carpet merchant, sipping sweet-thick Turkish
coffee from cups with filigree containers, while
the treasures of his collection were rolled
out at our feet by innumerable servitors, picturesque
in their blue blouses, broad red sashes, and
baggy blue trousers.
Those were the days of extravagant leisure.
Looking back on them it seems as though they
had occurred centuries ago, instead of merely
in 1913, just before the first of two world
wars. There was no need to hurry; rush and speed
had scarcely entered into man’s conception of
the desirable life; flying machines were still
something to bring housewives out of their doorsteps
to stare at; statesmen and politicians had not
yet begun to dart backwards and forwards between
America, Europe, and the Far East, descending
on Delhi and touching down somewhere in Australia
on the way. Expressions such as ‘breaking the
sound barrier’ would have been incomprehensible
to our ears. How soon we forget!
But what has all this to do, you may ask, with
the old roses which are the subject of Mr. Graham
Thomas’s book? Perhaps not so very far removed.
Mr. Thomas swept me quite unexpectedly back
to those dusky mysterious hours in an Oriental
storehouse when the rugs and carpets of Isfahan
and Bokhara and Samarcand were unrolled in their
dim but sumptuous coloring and richness of texture
for our slow delight. Rich they were, ripe as
a fig broken open, soft as a ripened peach,
freckled as an apricot, coral as a pomegranate,
bloomy as a bunch of grapes. It is of these
that the old roses remind me.
It may be true, as Mr. Thomas with his downright
honesty remarks, that some of the old roses
demand an acquired taste before they be properly
esteemed and appreciated. Not everybody likes
oysters. I have myself observed, with some amusement,
a look at dismay coming over the faces of visitors
to my own garden where I grow many of the roses
dear to my heart and to the heart of Mr. Thomas.
‘Surely, surely, that’s not a rose as we understand
roses?’ No, perhaps it isn’t. It bears little
resemblance to the highly colored Hybrid Teas
and Polyanthus and Floribundas or the modern
garden. It is a far quieter and more subtle
thing, but oh let me say how rewarding a taste
it is when once acquired, and how right is Mr.
Thomas when he implies that they have all ‘the
attraction that sentiment, history, botany,
or association can lend them.’
The first essential is to regard them as shrubs,
the name which Mr. Thomas boldly gives them.
It is a temptation to describe the great foaming
bushes, but Mr. Thomas has done it in the following
pages. The next need is to discard the idea
that roses must be limited to certain accepted
and accustomed colors, and to welcome the less
familiar purples and lilacs, and the striped,
flaked, mottled variations which recall the
old Dutch flower-paintings; to approach them,
in fact, with open and unprejudiced eyes, and
also with a nose that esteems the true scent
of a rose warmed by the sun. They have one major
fault, and Mr. Thomas does not evade it: their
flowering period is limited to one glorious
month of midsummer. Personally, I think that
they are more than worth it…”
As Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night, “If music be the food of love, play on…”
Following the reading, Freddy beguiled us
with stories of his family and the guitar he was
playing that had been made by his father. He played
and sang for about half an hour and took a request
from Sandra Lovelace to play “Malaguena” which
Freddy played with such passion and elegance that
she was moved to tears.
I had invited Freddy’s mother, Pearl, a fantastic
vocalist and the most sensual, vibrant eighty-year-old
woman I’ve ever known, to come to the Garden Party.
Pearl joined Freddy for two songs at the conclusion,
and they received a standing ovation.
Martha thanked everyone for coming and said,
“This is the first time I’ve been the guest of
honor at a party, and it’s been one of the happiest
days of my life.” I told the story about how as
children Martha Jean and Jane Clair would walk
around the block in our hometown neighborhood,
holding hands and singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”
We spontaneously broke out in song and everyone
joined in the singing. You could say the party
ended on a high note. It was a glorious finale
to celebrate the reunion of two little girls who
had grown up Southern.
Martha and Jane at Garden
Freddy Clarke and Jane
Recently, I remembered the lines in T.S. Eliot’s
poem, “Little Gidding” from his opus FOUR QUARTETS
written in 1942, the year after I was born.
With the drawing of this Love
And the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.