Mizz Bishop’s Kitchen
For most of us the kitchen is the heart of the home we grew up in. Somehow it is the place where everyone gathers, eschewing the comfort of a good chair, at least for a while, in favor of the laughter and warmth of family. Recently my Mother bequeathed me two iron skillets owned by her Mother stirring memories of my Grandmother’s kitchen. In those memories I could smell and taste the foods found there as well as the security of her love kindness of her smile, this woman known to so many as simply, Mizz Bishop.
Family entered Mizz Bishop’s house, come to think of it everyone did, through the back of the house through the utility room. Only salesmen, strangers and census takers, or maybe a Preacher, came to the front door. You passed a washer and dryer, washbasin, and an enormous freezer to enter the kitchen. The freezer always had fresh frozen peaches, strawberries, and a variety of vegetables my Grandmother had “put up.” There were cuts of beef, chicken, and pork waiting to become part of a meal. And oh yes, let’s not forget the thick slabs of “fatback,” an essential part of seasoning a Southern meal.
Most of the time my Grandmother’s first words to newly arrived family and friends included “Ya’ll hungry?” I can hear her Southern drawl even now. She would invite us into the kitchen to sit at the table while she started pulling out leftover pork chops, chicken, or steak, or fish. All of it cooked in the skillet, most of it breaded, I know own. It handled the duty of cooking biscuits, cornbread, bacon, eggs, and who knows what else. Scrambled eggs in her kitchen, in that skillet, were always cooked in bacon or sausage grease and resulted in something that could bring tears to your eyes.
Mizz Bishop’s kitchen always had something sweet to eat as well. Sometimes it was a homemade coconut cake or a pound cake. Sometimes it was a “store bought” Honey Bun, Chips Ahoy, or the Krispy Kreme Donuts she loved so much. In the rare event none of those were available there were always homemade strawberry or fig preserves to ladle onto a biscuit, piece of cornbread, or even a piece of toast. No one ever left hungry.
Tonight, I cooked my first pan of cornbread in Mizz Bishop’s skillet. I used the big one. It is well seasoned and heavy from both the iron from which it is made as well as more than fifty years of memories. This large skillet and its smaller brother are somehow sacred relics of my youth. And I treated them with the care of a holy moment. They call me to wonder how times she stooped to place them into the oven, removing them, to fill both the belly and the soul of the people she loved. And make me wonder how many times she asked, “Ya’ll hungry?”