I’ve been in the kitchen for hours today and as I cooked memories of my father-in-law, known as Olde Fred, have been hovering about, as though I had a cooking partner.
Both my dad and father-in-law loved to eat. At the time I married Olde Fred’s son, my mom was still enthusiastically cooking so mine wasn’t the only meal variety my parents knew. On the other hand, my mother-in-law (known as Miss Beautiful) had stopped venturing to the kitchen secondary to her progressing dementia. She was a bit dangerous and Fred had taken over.
He could cook a thing or two, mostly recipes from his childhood, but his repertoire was limited. When I prepared a meal and sent it to my in-laws or they came to our home, it wasn’t just a night off from galley work for him. It was an extravaganza. He didn’t have to find a recipe, nor shop for its ingredients, then concoct and clean up after it. He merely had to let dinner roll to him. He reveled in a well-prepared, generously seasoned, attractively presented meal. Holy cow. A happy camper. The kind of guy who like a teenage boy had every serving platter scraped onto his dinner plate before completing his meal. And he always had room for dessert.
One summer evening Olde Fred and Miss Beautiful joined us for typical seasonal fare. Grilled meats with cool salads, fresh fruit, and cobbler. I made potato salad.
I wing it with potato salad. I’m generally not a fan. And though my dad loved my mom’s recipe, which originated with his mom, its mainstay was a lot of mayonnaise tossed with overcooked Russet potatoes. No.
When I create a potato salad I add items I enjoy, with just barely enough mayonnaise to hold them together. I like my go-to red new potatoes slightly underdone. When I’m finished I hope it’s delicious and tastes purposeful – as though maybe it did have a recipe, and not like a chemistry experiment gone wrong.
On the night Olde Fred and Miss Beautiful joined us, my potato salad was scrumptious. Should’ve been patented except it can’t be duplicated because I have no recipe. But I have the memory of that one time…
Fred ate abundantly of everything offered and there was quite a bit left. Perhaps, I thought, more than Fred could scrape onto his plate. I would soon see how wrong I was, – sort of. When he determined we were finished with dinner, he pushed his plate aside and replaced it with the platter containing the remaining potato salad. He set about emptying it with a satisfied grin on his face.
There is nothing like cooking for someone who enjoys a meal that much. Someone who lets no crumb or spoonful go to waste, who emits a sound of pleasure with every bite, and who never says, “No, thank you.” Everyone who has fun in the kitchen should have such an individual as an audience. One who finishes with, “What’s for dessert?”
I was fortunate to know when that present unfolded that Olde Fred was special. I didn’t need to wait for the rearview mirror to see it. I wish everyone had a father-in-law like mine, with a twinkle in his eye and a hearty appetite for food and fun. I love you, Olde Fred. And today I felt you in my kitchen. Probably because I was making potato salad.