“Story Doula” Sylvia Lovely is one of our well-beloved class instructors here at the Co-op. Join her on September 13th for her “Writing the Stories of Your Life” class. Sign up today by clicking this link!
Born in the ”hollers” of eastern Kentucky, my parents told tales of Christmas without presents –
sometimes an orange if my grandfathers peddled and tinkered enough to earn at least a pittance.
Hoping to stay in their beloved Kentucky to that vocation which they knew best – farming – my parents
were diverted by a dream to live a more prosperous life, especially for my brother and me. Following
Dorothy’s “yellow brick road,” of a two-lane highway, they packed up the old pick-up and found their
way to Dayton, Ohio, where the factories allowed even the most poorly educated (like my dad) to get
good-paying jobs. Dayton was just one of the many meccas that attracted their liking in the 1950s.
I was raised in one of the many Kentucky diasporas that sprung up on the edge of the city. Often, it is
food that revives a life-affirming memory. Like Dorothy, who implored the Wizard to send her back to
Kansas only to be told that she could find her own way back, my mother’s cooking evoked Kentucky.
Hamburgers dredged in bacon fat, gravy, and biscuits and green beans and maters from the bountiful
garden were constant fare. My brother and I spent many an afternoon, albeit reluctantly, shucking corn
and breaking up beans to be canned and welcomed on our winter plates.
I marvel at the mystery of a favorite meal — salmon patties consisting of my mother’s simple recipe:
“canned” salmon, corn meal or bread crumbs, egg, salt, and pepper all fried up in oil or butter. We had it
at least once a week and I would come close to licking the can and eating what was left of the bottom.
As I came to remember this beloved meal, I pondered why salmon was in Kentucky and why canned?
Kentucky is far from the ocean and steeped more in the culture of pork which seems more fitting to my
parents who were accustomed to raising a hog that was slaughtered in the fall for sustenance
throughout the winter. The distance from the sea and the unavailability and cost of fresh salmon explained
But, more about the mystery. I began with Kentucky’s well-known Irish heritage marked by the exodus
of Northern Ireland protestants fleeing oppression and dire economics. They came first to Virginia,
Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Central and Eastern Kentucky. I learned that salmon, plentiful
in the seas surrounding Ireland was not only a food staple, but symbolic of wisdom, prosperity, and
Adding to the story is this: A magical salmon is said to have eaten the hazelnuts that fell from the
earth’s original tree that contained all the wisdom of the world. With the salmon now engorged with all-worldly knowledge, legend held that a man named Fionn was destined to eat the salmon and acquire the gift of wisdom. Upon the capture of the salmon, the king of warriors ordered Fionn, his
servant, to prepare it as he eagerly awaited the gift of knowledge. Fionn accidentally pricked and then
licked his thumb thus stealing away all the knowledge of the universe and drawing upon his wisdom and
knowledge to become an Irish hero.
Can we infer that salmon equates with wisdom? Perhaps, but as a child, I knew nothing of the salmon
legend nor did I care. It tasted good! What I cling to today is the joy of discovering the continued
reinforcement of an important fact. Food is interchangeable with culture and informs us of our
connectedness to one another and to people far-flung.
Share with me your life-affirming food story.
Let me know at email@example.com