When I was a young girl, my mother’s mother would cook green beans for what seemed like every meal. They would be fresh from the garden when in season or, during the winter, they would come from her reserves of “put up” vegetables that had been canned and stored. By the time I was about 10, I couldn’t stand the sight of a green bean. Though it took years to reawaken, my love of green beans did eventually return.
All of this cooking and storing of green beans and the bounty of summer took place in the makeshift “outdoor kitchen” that was nothing more than a concrete platform that was the roof of my grandparents’ storm cellar. The tools of this summer pop-up kitchen included a single garden hose, several dull paring knives, and a variety of galvanized buckets and tubs that had seen the better part of several decades. Beans, fruits, and vegetables of all sorts were initially washed and left to air dry on the shaded expanse of the concrete roof, which remained cool from the deep burrow below in the hot summers. Kids and adults alike gathered there in random pairs to shuck, peel, and prod those fruits and vegetables into a cleaner, more manageable form that would then be moved from the outdoors to the “real” kitchen inside. In her small kitchen, my grandmother would boil, serve, save, can, freeze, and generally use every scrap of food that came from the garden—a tended plot large enough to serve extended family and close friends. The preserved treasures would then move from the house, back outside and into the cool depths of the storm cellar to await their consumption—just below the makeshift kitchen, and alongside a family of spiders and crickets who made that dark place home.
I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, but by offering up that summer kitchen to any willing hand (and by serving all of those green beans), my grandmother was providing love and nourishment the only way she knew how—while teaching all of us kids the usefulness and practicality of growing our own food. Stories unfolded over those buckets of produce, and because of her patience and generous time sitting on the edge of that storm cellar, I learned that food could be used to pass down a love of nature, the earth, family tradition, and culture.
Each time I prepare fresh green beans, I laugh about how I often claimed to loathe a harmless vegetable. I think of my grandmother without fail, every time I cook them. I snap the ends, just the way she did—an action that I now adore. Each snaps brings up the feeling of cold concrete on bare, tanned summer legs.
For me, the kitchen holds this strong sense of memory. There is something profound in preparing a recipe the same way that my grandmother did—there is continuity and a sense of the familiar, of belonging to something and someone bigger than myself. The simple act of cooking beans leaves me awash in memory, with a full heart and a full belly.
This month, we are featuring two of my personal heroines—Davia and Nikki of The Kitchen Sisters—as part of The Factory Café Chef Series. Their radio series, Hidden Kitchens, explores how communities come together and connect through food, chronicling cultures, traditions, and legendary meals found in hidden kitchens around the world.
My kitchen, and now our café—hidden deep inside our factory—will always be a place to gather and a place to honor my grandparents, who nourished my spirit. I suspect that many of you have similar memories, traditions passed down through family, and hidden kitchens along the way—however those families are built.
We ask you to share your own Hidden Kitchen story in the comments below, or stop by The Factory Café and write your memories down and leave them on the table (#inthehiddenkitchen)—your story could be featured on the Alabama Chanin Journal and The Kitchen Sisters’ blog, as well as displayed in the café during the month of May.