God Bless the 800-Calorie Sandwich by Angela Townsend

So, here’s the thing about the Meemaw cookbooks.

I have no desire to make any of this stuff. But it gives me metaphysical peace to know that someone in Arkansas is eating the 800-calorie sandwich.

The Meemaw cookbooks are the dozen Taste of Home Annual Recipes volumes I’ve acquired. With systematic, inexplicable pleasure, I began collecting them the week V. moved out. The 2nd Avenue Thrift Store asked $2.99 per candy-colored hardcover, so I merrily cleaned them out.

I intentionally left behind the Cooking Light Annual Recipes.

Photo of white bookcase filled with books
Cookbooks by Zamburak (Flickr.com). CC license.

I can and can’t explain any of this. As the proud owner of a twenty-year-old eating disorder, I have long delighted in recipes I will never make, a vicarious Thanksgiving I don’t mention to my blood sugars or blue jeans.

But I was always content with happenstance scraps, Real Simple’s top five shakshuka recipes or supermarket brochures on brownie bites. Now, permitted and required to eat alone, I wanted a library. I learned this in the process of building one.

A diabetic anorexic whose culinary ventures extend to the creation of The Swamp Bowl, a salty tureen of canned spinach and shelf-stable riced cauliflower, does not plan to acquire twelve years of Taste of Home cookbooks. I was at 2nd Avenue for used theology, only dithering down the cookbook aisle absently.

But for $2.99, it would be a treat to have some recipes to “eat” while eating. Why not? Three pages in, reading while dredging the swamp, I was smitten. This was no mere cookbook. Each recipe began with a jaunty, earnest paragraph by a woman named Carolee or Jennybeth or Mildred or Pat. So many Pats.

They dabbed butter with brilliance: “Just like my ma, I love having a houseful! They always ask for my Crawfish Slaw.” “I bring my Quadruple Chocolate Whoopee Pies to bridge. Just see if your gals don’t ask for the recipe, too!” “Meemaw made a hot lunch for all twelve of us every day, but nothing compared to her Saucy Sausage Super-Sandwich!”

So many Meemaws. No small number of Nonnas. Zero concern for cholesterol.

Zero relation to my actual life, although c. the 2012 edition, when Taste of Home began including photos of Carolees and Pats, I began communing with these pink-and-gold fairies across time and space. They were Hostess Sno-balls with peachy cheeks, unselfconscious and selfless as they fed their grandchildren.

So many grandchildren. They all recited the number as though it were a shelf of Pulitzers.

One of the Pats was so prolific, I searched for her like Waldo in every chapter. She hosted “Grandma Camp” for her progeny every summer, and they made lemonade and whoopee pies and sandwiches. So many sandwiches.

Childless and underweight, carbless and introverted, carefully measuring my canned spinach—careful, full-stop—I felt connected to Pat. I secretly looked her up online. Surely such a saveur had her own blog. Maybe I could write to her, to thank her, for . . . for being Pat.

Pat had passed away.

The obituary was full of soppy, savory comments from strangers: “I never knew Pat, but I made everything she submitted to Taste of Home, and boy, was she one fine cook.” “I hope this doesn’t seem hokey, but I knew Pat from her recipes. Her grandchildren are in my prayers.” “Pat’s legacy lives forever in my kitchen.”

Mine, too.

Because here’s the thing about the Meemaw cookbooks. Even though I will never make any of this stuff, it’s making me.

These joyous women, billowing like aprons, are patting my bony cheeks, telling me everything is going to be okay. The world is a freewheeling family, where tables are long and aging kids can be campy. From Arkansas to Albany, we feed each other. There are freedoms that aren’t mine to taste, but they comfort me.

Photo of a sandwich from the side
Sandwich by Robyn Lee. CC license.

Knowing that someone is eating an 800-calorie sandwich makes me feel at home in the world. Knowing that Pat and Carolee are hugging their housefuls fills me.

My ancestors are here in my underused kitchen, Anne with her ziti and Clara with her spaetzle. My tenacious mother is here, with the sugar-free pistachio pudding that gave one little diabetic a St. Patrick’s Day birthday when the clover was as thin as my body.

I am not making 800-calorie sandwiches, but the world tastes like home.

I am home, silly, savoring my Swamp Bucket.

I am home, peachy in the sorority of hearty sisters.

There are heavenly pats of butter on my head.

Angela Townsend
Angela Townsend is the Development Director at Tabby’s Place: a Cat Sanctuary. She graduated from Princeton Seminary and Vassar College. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Chautauqua, CutBank, Lake Effect, Paris Lit Up, The Penn Review, Pleiades, The Razor, and Terrain.org, among others. Angie has lived with Type 1 diabetes for thirty-three years, laughs with her poet mother every morning, and loves life affectionately.

Follow us!
Share this post with your friends.

One thought on “God Bless the 800-Calorie Sandwich by Angela Townsend”

  1. I’m a Type 1 diabetic who recognizes the value of reading about food as a pleasant diversion from thinking about glycosylated hemoglobin, retinal hemorrhages, and peripheral neuropathy.
    My favorite cookbook is the Sopranos Cookbook which contains more than its share of weird relatives.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *