Sunday, July 12, 2015

July's Column--On Summer, Food, and Such


Cooking can nourish the soul, too

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
JULY 12, 2015

You’d have thought we were a pioneer family loading our covered wagon in St. Joseph, Mo., the other day, instead of a mother and daughter stocking up for the next few weeks at Cash and Carry, Eugene’s efficient restaurant-supply store.

Five dozen eggs. 25 pounds of brown sugar. 50 pounds of potatoes. A gallon each of barbecue sauce and ketchup. A quart of mustard. Six pounds of sliced cheese. Seven pounds of sandwich meats. Two quarts of cream. And a three-gallon barrel of vanilla ice cream.

We heaved it all into our car, the ice cream wrapped in a sleeping bag in the trunk and the potato bag awkwardly swung into the back seat with Emily and I each hoisting an end.

This summer, it seems that food is consuming me, instead of the other way around.

Food, family and the grass-seed harvest take up most of my time.

“You got any oats?” my 98-year-old dad demands enthusiastically at 7:15 a.m., thumping into the kitchen with his cane and his hard-soled shoes.

“Sorry, I gave them all to the horse!” I joke, and I set the little pan of water on the stove just as our son Ben comes in from a night of sacking grass seed and stands beside me at the stove frying three large quesadillas before he goes to bed for the day.

Steven, our youngest son, took his turn cooking for his fellow firefighter students on an overnight shift last week. Late the night before, he shredded potatoes and chopped celery for a salad, then left at 5 a.m. with a gallon container of pulled pork, 15 enormous buns, two quarts of homemade applesauce, and the tub of potato salad.

Some of us pack lunches to take to work; some eat lunch at home. Some make tea in the morning, some coffee. They all have different work schedules, so someone is constantly in the kitchen, rooting in the fridge for a late meal after work. Most of the seven of us gather around the table at 6 p.m. for a big meat-and-potatoes dinner. And just before 11 p.m., Ben once again rattles drawers and opens cupboard doors, preparing fuel for the middle of the night.

We pick gallons of berries to wash and freeze for winter, reserving some for fresh pies and cobblers.

Then there are hot dog roasts in the back yard with young cousins and friends around the fire pit in the dark, guests and grilled chicken on the Fourth, and Sunday dinners with extra leaves in the table and a pot roast in the oven all morning.

I’m the one who makes sure it all happens.

They all know basic cooking, I make sure of that, and they all pack their own lunches. But someone has to manage the logistics of this operation and keep it running efficiently, and that would be me.

“How did I get to this place?” I wonder now and then as I check the long list on my clipboard and brace my feet to heave a 200-pound cart of groceries down the condiments aisle at WinCo. I was the girl who could happily live on Cheerios, fresh peaches and iced tea. Mom taught me to cook, sort of, but I didn’t find it particularly interesting or fulfilling.

Paul and I took the traditional roles of breadwinner and housewife when we got married, which worried me just a little, but I soon learned that we were both happy with simple Crock-Pot meals.

Then the world spun around a few times and I found myself a mother of six, a pastor’s wife, a friend of many, and the chief food coordinator for a houseful of people and a stream of guests, with two refrigerators, two freezers, three full pantries, and a shocking grocery budget.

The most discouraging part of the job is that all my hard work is constantly disappearing. Hours of shopping, baking, thawing, stirring, frying, whipping and then, in minutes, it’s gone, with only a few bones left on the plates and a smear of dressing in the bowl.

This is what is means to be an adult, I think: to make peace with the life you didn’t foresee, to see spiritual significance in the daily repeated tasks and to find fulfillment in doing them well.

If all I can see is the doing, the disappearing and the dirty dishes, I’m going to be resentful. I won’t be concerned with quality and nutrition. I’ll quit being creative. Worst, I won’t see that it’s not about frantically shoveling mash in a trough but about bringing together and nourishing the people I love.

So, as I do with everything, I look to the Bible for perspective. “Bread” is the word for food in general, I find, and it is used with reverence.

“Man shall not live by bread alone,” Deuteronomy says, and Jesus repeats the words, much later. He teaches his followers to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He asks, regarding God’s generosity, “What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?” And then he says, mysteriously, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”

The Book of Proverbs dares us to be surprising: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” And: “He who has a generous eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor.”

Food, I conclude, has far greater significance than a McDouble grabbed and eaten on the way to more important things. It’s meant to be fellowship, gratitude and sustenance, an indicator of character, a unifying gift, a symbol of spiritual realities.

If I believe in divine design, then I also believe that all these people in my life are precious to God, this constant hunger was intentional, and to nourish and feed his children is a calling with eternal significance.

“Work is love made visible,” Kahlil Gibran wrote in his poem “On Work.” “For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.”

The bowl of apples on the counter becomes a work of art, the bags of groceries hauled inside on a hot day a sacrifice to God, the cheesecake a fulfilling creative challenge. The cookie in a lunch bag opened on a dusty combine, the smell of bacon drifting upstairs on a summer morning, the barbecued dinner on the porch that makes a harvest-weary husband smile — these are holy and precious things, love offered on a plate, fragrant whiffs of joy, beauty that disappears in minutes but continues for a lifetime and eternity.


  1. Lovely and true. This puts into words what I have longed to put into words. Thank you, Dorcas.

  2. This is beautiful!! Thank you! I never had much of an interest in food, beyond eating it. Then my children were born with digestive disorders and my hours became heavily invested in calculating ratios of protein vs sugars and so on. It was surprisingly satisfying! It was/is my calling.....while it is a duty, it is a beautiful privilege as well. I highly recommend the book 'Eat With Joy' by Rachel Marie Stone. Thank you for this perspective!

  3. "This is what is means to be an adult, I think: to make peace with the life you didn’t foresee, to see spiritual significance in the daily repeated tasks and to find fulfillment in doing them well." GENIUS.

  4. This is true for many things in life. It all depends on who you are doing it for. Fulfillment comes from doing all, even the small menial tasks, for Jesus only.

  5. So very true. As a Mom of five grown ones that somehow turned into 15 so far with spouses and grandchildren I will say that baking cookies is the most thankless task of all. They just vanish.

    My pastor's wife daughter says her best defense for feeding hordes is her 20 cup rice cooker. Lots of things can be served over a pile of rice and she does not have to peel, chop or prep anything for a huge pot of rice.

  6. What a great attitude and insightful message concerning repetitive chores! Thank you. I sent an additional comment to you directly, Dorcas.

  7. What a wonderful reminder - especially here in mid-summer when somehow food seems to take much more of my time. I love to garden - but oh the time. Most of it thankless.

    Thanks for giving purpose it the madness.

  8. Years ago I read "The Hidden Art of Homemaking" by Edith Schaeffer and it helped change my outlook on daily household tasks. This post is a great reminder of that attitude--thank you!
    Sue R.

  9. These words are life giving this morning -- thanks for speaking into my life and so many others'.

  10. I love this! People around me think I'm crazy, but one of my blessings is cooking and blessing my family and others. I live a modern life, but do things as my Amish ancestors did. I feel that as a Biblical wife, it's my duty and honor to take care of those I love.