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COLUMN from CRYSTAL SMITH: This Installment / Why First Cherries?

By Crystal Smith

Smith's first original recipe

June 29, 2012. High Country Press is glad to introduce a new column from a wholesome food enthusiast. The author, Crystal Smith, writes about recipes, her love affair with food, cooking on summer days with her sweet, Southern Grandma and other stories. She is currently living in Buenos Aires, and plans to incorporate her new surroundings into imaginative dishes. She’s always finding inspiration to mix into her simple, fresh and delicious foods. 

Why First Cherries?

Food is a near obsession for me. It is very common for me to ask what we should do for lunch during breakfast and make dinner plans at lunch. I look forward to visiting museums on my trips to new cities, but what I look forward to most is the new food. This has always been the case.

My family likes to tease me about a time when I was still a baby, too young to even sit at the table by myself. My Dad was holding me in his lap and my Grandpa was “saying the blessing.” My diet of smashed up green peas and mushy bananas from a jar just wasn’t cutting it, so I saw an opportunity and I took it. Papa Victor said “Amen,” and everyone opened their eyes to find me doubled over with my face buried in my first taste of Mama Jackie’s delicious roast beef. This was the beginning of my love affair with food, particularly the food that came out of my Grandmother’s kitchen.

I spent summer days with my Grandmother. After she retired we split our time between gardening, cooking and giggling. While she made the main course, I usually made dessert. I started with things like pudding from a box and quickly progressed to the simple, but delicious cobbler. While she managed four pots on the stove and another in the oven, she patiently gave me instructions. If I wasn’t making dessert, I was acting as her sous chef.  Her orders were always delivered in the sweetest Southern accent, “Crystal, we need to set the table.”  Or, “Crystal, we need to chop this onion.”  I always knew that ‘we’ meant ‘you’ and never hesitated to follow instructions.

Needless to say, my memories of cooking are all positive. I could write a book filled just with anecdotes from Mama Jackie’s kitchen, but that’s not the point of this article. Where does the name come from? As a little girl, I enjoyed inventing my own original recipes and my first was the cherry recipe pictured above.

I was way ahead of the farm to table and whole foods trends. I think this recipe really lets the ingredients…err…ingredient shine. Actually, those “movements” are just a part of life in our little town. Before I had ever heard of the farm to table idea my grandmother was living it. Most days she decided to cook meals determined by what needed to be picked, and the food she cooked was always uncomplicated and delicious.

So, “First Cherries” represents more than an adorable recipe I created when I was a little girl. It is also a synopsis of my cooking philosophy. I’m sure that was not my point as I wrote the recipe, but I usually keep things simple. There are several reasons for this, one being that I enjoy cooking and I tend to do it several times a day. It just isn’t practical for me to cook something that requires a lot of time and attention on a daily basis. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy taking on a laborious recipe on the weekends when I have extra time. First Cherries will be a combination of these two styles.

Besides simplicity, what is my food about? I try to make healthy, wholesome food, and it’s often plant based. However, I believe in moderation in all things, including moderation. Due to my original pastry chef position in Mama Jackie’s kitchen, I still have a fondness for baking. The time I spent living in Spain also influences what I cook. I’m currently living in Buenos Aires, and I imagine that I will soon be incorporating more of what I see here. When it comes down to it, I cook wholesome food that I like. I get inspiration from cookbooks, restaurants and friends and I don’t think I ever enter the kitchen without thinking of the woman who made that delicious roast beef.