Twenty-three years ago my great grandmother died. She was 93. She’d been a third parent to me, just as she had been to my mother.
And predictably, so many of my memories of her are entwined with food.
The Christmas Eves she and I would devein shrimp for feasts with my parents. The mint patties she kept in a bowl for me. The American chop suey that always was waiting for me when I visited her.
But more than anything, there was her pork scrap. Grey and ugly, this thick pate-like dish was a staple from her French Canadian roots. It’s proper name is cretons, but I didn’t learn that until much later.
She’d made it for my mother when she was a girl. Then she made it for me. Rich, fatty, warmly seasoned and delicious. She always ate it the same way — spread thick on white bread and topped with ketchup. And so that was how I ate it.
For my mother, Memere’s pork scrap was a packed lunch for school. On white bread, but topped with mustard. For me, it was a snack I looked forward to during my weekly sleepovers at her place.
When Memere died, her recipe box disappeared. I was 17 and devastated. I’d lost her. I’d lost her pork scrap.
Years went by. The recipe box never surfaced. It still hasn’t.
But 13 years ago, buried in a stack of old photos, I found a handwritten letter she’d sent to my mother, who had been sent off to boarding school.
In it, Memere had written the recipe for her pork scrap.
That was 13 years ago. I never had the courage to make the recipe. Just having it was a comfort, knowing I could. But I never did.
It was fear mostly. So strong was my taste memory of this, I was scared of messing with that. I’d never actually seen Memere make pork scrap. And her recipe is a bit vague in the way old recipes so often are. I couldn’t possibly replicate it. At least, not the romanticized version of it that now lived only in my head.
And so I made copies of it (for fear of losing it again). And I held on to it. But I never made it.
Then Tuesday last week. I was at the grocer stocking up for Thanksgiving. As I walked into the meat department, I suddenly thought about Memere and her pork scrap. And it made me happy. And sad that Parker never would taste it.
And soon I was hefting a 3-pound fatty slab of pork butt to the register.
Wednesday morning, I sat Parker in the kitchen and told him about Memere. He gave me a hug and asked if he could help make it.
And so we did.
We ground the meat. We boiled the meat. We seasoned the meat. We chilled it. All according to Memere’s recipe.
And the whole time I was convinced I was doing it wrong. It looked wrong. It smelled wrong. I had nothing to compare it to. I’d only ever known pork scrap at the eating stage.
And then it was done.
I cut off two thick slabs of our favorite sourdough bread. I spread them thick with pork scrap. Then I smeared them with ketchup.
And they were just right. Just as I’d remembered it. Perfect. Perfect. Perfect.
And it was worth the 23-year-wait. A tiny, delicious connection between Parker and Memere.
So today’s lunch starts there… A fourth generation and his pork scrap on white bread. With ketchup.