“A Taste (and Smell) of Home,” column for Oct. 23, 2012

This is not something I say often. Or ever, really. But I wish you could smell my kitchen. 

An hour ago, I came home with a carload of groceries. I hauled it all in two bags at a time, as much as I could carry, back and forth, thinking as I always do, surely there’s a better way to do this.

Wrong. There is no better way. If you know of one, I’d love to hear about it.

While I can’t say I’ve spent a lot of time cooking, I could almost swear I’ve spent half my life hauling groceries home and putting them away.  When my children were growing up _ especially when they were teenagers _ we went through groceries so fast I used to joke about making them eat in the car straight from the bags.  It wasn’t much of a joke.

The kids are grown now, cooking for themselves, leaving my husband and me on our own, usually. But I still spend a lot of time in grocery stores.  Maybe we eat more than we used to? Whatever. The point is, groceries are a big part of my life. But let me be clear.

I am not complaining. I love shopping for groceries. I love the infinite variety, seeing what’s fresh, what’s in season, what’s in other people’s carts. I don’t even really mind hauling it home and putting it away. If that’s a problem, it’s a good problem to have.

My mother had a much bigger  problem with groceries: Paying for them. It was often a struggle. To compensate, she’d spend hours every summer gardening and canning and freezing fruits and vegetables for the winter.

It’s not bad on occasion to have too little. It teaches you to count your blessings and never take for granted being lucky enough to have too much.

One of my favorite meals growing up was something my mother called “soup mixture” _ a blend of tomatoes, onions, corn and okra that she canned in quart-sized Mason jars and lined up like trophies on a shelf. Come winter, when the wind howled through cracks in the cinderblock walls, she would pop open one of those jars, heat it up on the stove, bake a big pan of cornbread and we’d eat.

It was good.

Just coming home to the smell of it simmering on the stove was enough to make me happy.

Which brings me to where I started, the smell in my kitchen.

After putting away all those groceries, I turned on the oven.

Yes, I know how.

Then I filled a roasting pan (lined with parchment paper for easier clean-up) with a dozen fresh tomatoes (cut in half), four onions (quartered) and a fistful of garlic (whole cloves, peeled.)

Salt and pepper to taste.

I put that pan in the oven to roast at 350 for two hours. Then I filled another pan (also with parchment) with an eggplant (cut in bite-sized chunks), a bunch of Brussels sprouts (halved) and a butternut squash (peeled and cubed.)

Salt and pepper again. That pan went in the oven, too, top rack above the tomatoes. It’s been in there about an hour. I wish you could smell it.

I’ll take it out soon. The squash will go in soup tomorrow. The sprouts will be a side dish tonight.

I’ll boil and drain a pot of pasta. In about an hour, after the tomatoes collapse and turn a gorgeous reddish brown, I’ll take them out and scrape them into a pan along with the roasted eggplant and onions and garlic, plus a cup of white wine or some pasta cooking water.

I’ll let that simmer for a bit.

When my husband comes home from work, the smell of it will make him happy.

I’ll pour it over the pasta, serve it up and we will count our blessings.

It will be good, yes, almost as good as my mother’s soup mixture.

And the best thing about it? I got the recipe from my oldest child.


  1. Elaine Smith says

    I just received (3rd hand) your message of kitchen smells and tho I can count birthdays back beyond the Dust Bowl days of the 30’s, it is my Mother’s bread I remember when coming in from school. My sister and I were allowed a warm bun with lots of peanut butter, but only after we had brought in the many baskets of corn cobs which burned as fuel in our cookstove. The warm bread, the love that made it and the taste – ahhhhhh! Happy memory.
    Read your column here in Monterey, Ca.

  2. Patty Nevins says

    Sharon-I just wanted to share my way of getting groceries into the house. A red canvas foldup wagon from Kmart. I keep it in the garage and usually only have to make one trip. EASY!

  3. Your column on homemade vegetable soup brought back so many memories. Growing up in the country, we always had a HUGE garden. My mother would can everything she could get her hands on. She would put up dozens of jars of vegetable soup. I remember there had to be twice as many tomatoes as other vegetables. Do you remember the tomato juice running down you arms and stinging any small scratch you had? I remember coming in from school in the winter and smelling the soup cooking on the stove. There was nothing more delicious unless it was turnip greens cooking. So many of the things you write about are things that I experienced too. Thank you for the memories and keep them coming, Pam Davis Killen, AL

  4. Ethel Lemmond says

    I read your column every time it is published in our newspaper, The Decatur Daily, in Decatur, Alabama and I thoroughly enjoy it. It is the best thing about our paper. Today’s colummn brought back many happy memories of my childhood and coming home from school to the wonderful smells in my mother’s kitchen. This past year I lost my 52 year old son, who died suddenly in his sleep and my husband, who had cancer. They both died within 3 months and it has been a very difficult year for our family. There have been several of your columns which have meant so much to me. They have helped me to get through some days when I just wasn’t sure I was going to make it. I just wanted to let you know what a comfort your words are and how much I appreciate your ability and willingness to share your personal thoughts and feelings. Believe me, they are very helpful to me and I am sure to many others. Thank you so much.

    • Sharon Randall says

      Ethel, I am so very sorry that you lost your son and your husband. I cannot imagine how difficult this year has been for you. You must be an incredibly strong and beautiful person. Please know that my heart goes out to you and I wish you all the best.
      Grace and peace,

  5. Kathryn S. Gaiser says

    Good morning Sharon
    I’ve been intending to write to you for some time and after reading your column this morning in our morning newspaper( Evansville Courier) Evansville, Indiana, I decided that now is the time. I truly enjoyed the kitchen smells article. I’ve been making homemade bread , the kind my Grandmother made, for years and since my family calls me Mee-Maw my grandchildren christened it Mee-Maw bread. My husband loves to smell it as it bakes.
    I look forward to reading your column every Sunday and I have always thought that you are someone that I would just like to give a big hug.

  6. I love your column, to which I was alerted by Jane Lundy, who has been a friend since 1949!

    And, yes, some of my best recipes have come from my daughter as well as from my son, both of whom are excellent cooks. Funny how that happens, isn’t it…..

  7. Oh Sharon (and Josh) I am salivating! Will run to the grocery store tomorrow, buy all the ingredients, bring them home, sclepp them in the house and make my kitchen smile and smell good. Then we will happily eat our yummy pasta. Thanks you two for the recipe. Miss you!

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