My inspiration for attempting to make delicious food to help those in need is my grandmother Mary Bickerstaff. Mimi, as her grandchildren knew her, was a military wife originally from Arkansas. She, my grandpa, and my dad’s family lived in Germany, South Carolina, and Alaska, before my grandpa retired from the Air Force and they bought a small car dealership and moved to Clayton, Georgia.
Mimi, made her place in the community raising my dad and his three siblings and being an active host and member of her church. By the time I was born, she was beloved in the community. One of my favorite pictures is of her at her surprise 60th birthday sitting on her throne: a toilet. She was funny, caring, and a consumate host.
My mom has often said my grandmother wasn’t comfortable around babies, but by the time I was old enough to decorate a Christmas cookie, we were always together. People used to say we looked alike, but I think that was based more on our similar personalities than looks.
I was lucky to live within two miles of her until I was 18. Mimi taught me how to cook, and more importantly she taught me that a meal is more important than ingredients or nutrition. Every meal she made was a thoughtful and time-intensive menu of what people wanted/loved cooked with seasonable ingredients. Sometimes meals would take 2 hours to prepare, but she always made sure that everything was on the table, so she could sit and enjoy the meal. My favorite meal was blackened catfish, green beans (the only ones I have ever liked), fresh cornbread, and sliced tomatoes, and she made it for me every time I came home in college even though she struggled with ovarian cancer the entire time.
By the time I was old enough to be alone in the kitchen, I was cooking meals and baking for my grandparents. Every holiday we cooked together, and our Christmas cookies were handed out to friends and family. When my grandmother was too ill to cook after her first stint in the hospital the summer after my freshman year in college,I stayed with her and my grandpa for 3 weeks, and I cooked for them every day. I’ll always remember feeling very lucky that I could care for her like she had done for me my entire life.
She is my inspiration, so when I knew that I was going to put this cookbook together, I asked my mother for my grandmother’s peach cobbler recipe. The recipe was quick, but beautiful especially in late summer months. Receiving pictures of my grandma’s original recipe at one of the busiest and most exhausting moments of my life, gave me so much strength. That day we made a peach and a pear cobbler to bring to the Occupy Sandy site in Clinton Hill. Looking at the cobbler was enough for me to be sure that I was making my grandmother proud.
Feeding Sandy is in part dedicated to the memory of Mimi, who passed away a month after I moved to NYC to become a Teaching Fellow. If you would like to buy the book and/or buy it for someone else please click here.