To the People and Tables that Leave Us Full.

There is nowhere on earth like a grandmother's kitchen.

To the People and Tables that Leave Us Full.
Dutch Baby + Nana's hands

Every step has intention. Every step has knowledge. Every step has love.

For me, there was cantaloupe sliced in half-moon pieces with knives sharp enough to split hairs. And pimento cheese sandwiches on white bread served on plates the color of egg yolk. The crystal was high on shelves, out of reach, never used. Glass bottles of Coke and Lays chips and homemade chocolate sauce poured warm from pint Mason jars over peppermint stick ice cream.

There was also the wooden table we sat around after the Methodist service long into the afternoon, stories floating high into the kitchen air, eating too much of chocolate-fudge she called Mississippi Mud. Neighbors and third cousins would come over, pulling up a second row of chairs around the table, like outfield bleachers. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to be but here. Tapering, she'd call it. Now, all these years later, I'd use a different word:


When I consider my autobiography of food, two women played a significant role: my grandmothers.

We have a hunch you'd say the same.

Often, in our Food as a Verb interviews, we've heard heard so many people – especially top chefs – admit: we first fell in love with food through our grandmothers. When we consider all the magical places in the South, there must be special distinction reserved for whatever alchemy happens within a grandmother's kitchen.

Earlier this month, Sarah traveled to Nashville to visit her own grandmother. She took photos, wrote and wrote. When she showed me the draft of this morning's essay, my breath caught in my chest; suddenly, I was back there again, the sweet slices of cantaloupe, the mud-chocolate world of stories, nowhere to go, nowhere to be but here.

This morning, Sarah offers this tender, full-hearted feature with such gratitude for grandmothers everywhere and the way food can feel like home.

All words and images that follow by Sarah Unger.

Florence Barnard Gutherz, 88

Tables Set For Intention

Dishes and pans slam around. It’s not deliberate. It’s vivacious. Florence Barnard Gutherz, or Nana, as I’ve always called her, just has a tendency to sling kitchen items around with a real dominance. A well-deserved dominance that is only obtained by cooking for six children, 29 grand-and-great grandchildren and taking cooking classes in many of the 32 countries she’s visited. 

When you are in Nana’s kitchen, there are two things that are always true:

  1. You will learn something about food.
  2. You will find Roland. A Purple Heart recipient of the Korean War, husband of 28 years and her biggest fan, sitting somewhere nearby. Often jokingly referred to as “The Domestic,” proudly, patiently awaits one of his many tasks: grinding fresh pepper, pouring coffee, sharpening knives ... 

For as long as I can remember, time with my Nana, 88, has revolved around food. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. This also rings true to this granddaughter’s heart.

I attribute my profound love for food and antiques all to my Nana. Weekends filled with slow, strategic steps weaving up and down rows of antique stores. Sometimes, we find something worthy of taking home, often times, we just giggle, showing off the most bizarre items we can’t ignore. The smell of those old, musty treasure-filled booths transition to the smell of savory crêpes, or my personal favorite: “date-night chicken."

It’s these types of days where all five senses are utilized in the best ways. Leaving you full

Nana’s approach to cooking is serious yet playful. Structured yet rambunctious. No matter how detailed the recipe, there's always room for humor sprinkled about, never taking anything too seriously. Meals are carefully planned out. Multiple markets are visited. It is very much what the day revolves around.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert, each coming and going with equal importance.

"The concept of the dinner table remains a sacred place to me because of Nana."

The table is always set (thanks to “The Domestic”) and wine glasses are always full. It’s a process. There’s prep work, there’s time for rest, and there is, of course, “wine time” that starts promptly at 5 each evening. Whether hand-selecting each individual blueberries for the Dutch Baby breakfast or taking the time to carefully peel asparagus for the evening salad, no corners are cut.

Every step has intention.

Every step has knowledge.

Every step has love.

Nothing is hurried. 

As a person that tends to stay caught up in the rush of life’s daily expectations, my soul aches for these dinners. The ones where the prep work started the day before. The ones where we sit still and enjoy company and a glass of wine before the cooking starts. The ones where we lazily linger way too long at the table after we’ve all finished our meals just to soak up the company around the dimly lit table (and maybe a little bit to avoid the dishes, too.) A table once meticulously set by Roland, now scattered with dirty napkins, half-filled wine glasses and completely clean plates. It’s hours. But there’s no hurry. No schedule. No phone to be checked or task to be completed. Just a dirtied table, some full bellies and good old-fashioned visiting. 

I know there’s a very black and white reason that I crave these evenings so much. I think it’s probably the same for anyone else reading this. We all crave these moments of pure contentment and connection. There’s something magical that happens around a dinner table. Whether a carefully crafted experience or a pizza picked up on the way home from work, the concept of the dinner table remains a sacred place to me because of Nana. 

Nana's Kitchen

So may this year be filled with quality, unhurried dinner tables for us all. May these evenings of restoration and fulfillment trickle back into our daily routines. May you find worth in the sitting and the savoring. And as my stomach begins to growl, I’ll leave you with a Scottish Proverb that Nana loves to share at the beginning of “wine time":

Here's to you, as good as you are, 
And here's to me, as bad as I am.
But as good as you are, and as bad as I am, 
I am as good as you are, as bad as I am.

Cheers to the people and tables that leave us full,


All words + photography by Sarah Unger.

All design by Alex DeHart.

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Food as a Verb thanks our sustaining partners for their generous support.

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