With Cauliflower and Kindness
I was young and impressionable. A wife at 19, I was collecting impressions. My eyes were wide open to new aspects of living and learning. Dean and I were newlyweds and attending college together in Massachusetts.
The college was an easy walk to Dean’s sister, whose family, at that time, lived in a wing of the Josiah Quincy House (built in 1770). Her husband was a photographer for the New England Historical Society. When he had gotten the inside scoop about a live-in curator’s position, he jumped on it. It enabled the family to take advantage of low rent with the condition that my sister-in-law would give tours of the Josiah Quincy House during the summer.
One evening, in 1979, Dean’s sister invited us for supper. We walked through the old neighborhood over crooked sidewalks, past front porches, green grass and flowers in window boxes. The August sun was pink. It cast a rosy glow on the faces of the white clapboard houses. I thought, “I’d like to live in a neighborhood like this some day.”
When Dean and I arrived the little nieces were already tucked into bed. Standing in the narrow kitchen we joined in the chatter. Pots were simmering. The what-smells-so-good-odors filled our noses and set our stomachs growling. A minute later we were abruptly ushered out of the room. Puzzled, we followed our brother-in-law across the hall and through a private door. This door was the shortcut into the museum part of the house.
With a wave of his arm, and the pull of a chair, he seated us at Josiah Quincy’s dinning room table. I blinked twice at the china, silver, cloth napkins and stemmed glasses. A snapshot shows the dinning room as tourist saw it then. (Dean’s father probably took this photograph along with the other Kodak pictures we scanned into the computer for this post. The back of the pictures is stamped 1986.)
In elegant cream soup bowls, on Josiah Quincy’s walnut table, cauliflower soup was served. I held my soupspoon gingerly, conscious to not sip or slurp. Such pampering made me feel a bit nervous. Intuition told me that this would be the pinnacle dinning experience of my life. Thirty-five years later, I am right so far. Eating in Josiah Quincy’s dinning room, by hush-hush special invitation of the curators, in an intimate atmosphere of American history, and surrounded by 200-year-old antiques, was an experience that has never been topped.
I don’t recall anything else about the meal except that I esteemed my sister-in-law for her artistic homemaking skills. I thought, “I want to learn to cook like her one day – with fresh wholesome food.”
It was my first experience eating cream of cauliflower soup. Its garnish of herbs was pinched off the steams of plants growing out front, in a little ancient garden, primly bordered by boxwood. Although I cannot recall the other courses – I was unquestionably enjoying the conversation - everything was as delicious and as new to me as a Babette’s feast.
In the story, Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen, middle-aged Puritan sisters Martine and Philippa were used to plain food. They ate plain food all their lives. And they instructed their new cook, Babette, to keep meals properly bland. But after many years in their employ, and to celebrate a special occasion, Babette begged to make a French meal for them. The food brought to the table that evening was extravagantly French, cooked to perfection, delicious, and in every sense, foreign to the sisters’ palates - a pinnacle dinning experience. I finished reading the story recently. Did you ever see the film?
Dean’s sister is really a casual sort of person. She evidently dreamed up that supper in 1979 as a wedding gift for the newlyweds. It left a welcome impression on me. I’ve been making cauliflower soup ever since.
While mincing shallots, sometimes the meal in the museum comes to mind. Then, I am encouraged with,
“as ye are pampered, go ye likewise and pamper one another – with cauliflower and kindness”
- a funny little motto I made up. After all, what are blogs for but for collecting impressions and giving them?
Thanks for stopping by my place – as well as Josiah Quincy’s,
Josiah Quincy was a colonel in the American revolutionary war. Click here to see his house - which looks like those that girls stitched into their linen samplers in the 18th century.