In my mom’s hometown, when the going gets tough, the tough bake a cake.
So when my Papaw passed away recently, by the time I arrived in Kentucky—the day after his death—the sympathy food had already started rolling in.
Food as love
Indeed, in the days following his passing, scratch-baked cakes of every variety (including a carrot cake aptly labeled “comfort cake”) showed up at my Papaw’s house, along with brownies, bars, cookies, and pies. Beyond desserts, women delivered platters of sandwich fixin’s, homemade bread, Tupperware containers brimming with soup, and bowl upon bowl of potato salad. Since people know my mom and I are plant-based, we even received a huge fruit platter and not one but five vegetable trays.
Accompanying the food were hugs and warm words for us and one of my grandpa’s caretakers, who helped take care of us in the days after his passing. (D, if you are reading this, thank you for all you did.)
Papaw would have been pleased. Not only with the food—which he would have loved!—but with the show of support.
Because the vast majority of his life was lived for others.
An inspiring life
Born in 1922, my Papaw—Grover—started with very little. The oldest of six children, he worked his way through the Great Depression, delivering newspapers by mule, working the land, and cutting timber. He married my Nana, Juanita, when he was 20, then served in World War II for 3 years.
When he returned from the war, he and my Nana started a family, eventually welcoming 6 children, 9 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren (!) over the course of their 64-year marriage before my Nana’s passing in 2006.
Starting in 1946, they also launched a business that would grow and thrive, eventually encompassing lumber, construction, and retail operations.
In so doing, they not only created numerous jobs, but went out of their way to help employees, family, friends, and the community. I can’t begin to count the number of lives my Papaw (and Nana) touched, but at both visitation and the funeral, everyone had a kind word or story to share.
This message, written by Mary Holman in response to my Papaw’s obituary, was typical:
Grover was a dear man who, with Juanita at his side led a life of commitment to helping others. When there was a need, they were eager to reach out with love and compassion…
I was honored to hear stories about the man who’d loved and supported me as long as I could remember. Stories of a man who loved God, family, his country, and his hometown; who listened more than he talked; who shared both wise words and his wonderful sense of humor, each at the appropriate time.
Hundreds of people paid their respects at his visitation, and the funeral at his little country church was standing room only. The luncheon afterwards was a potluck beyond anything I’d ever seen—some 30 feet of serving tables lined on both sides with salads, casseroles, side dishes, and rolls, with a whole other table for desserts.
I am still awed by the outpouring of kindness, comforted by the home-cooked food, and inspired by my Papaw’s legacy of hard work, quiet wisdom, and unwavering care for others.
Following his example
While I’ve grieved upon returning home, I’ve also been inspired by my Papaw’s legacy. But where he built hospitals and schools and so helped people build fruitful lives, I hope to help people build fit, healthy bodies through nourishing food.
So I’m dealing with my sadness the best way I know how—working in the kitchen, creating life-affirming recipes that also happen to be downright delicious.
First up? This no-added-oil white bean dip, bursting with the fresh flavors of basil and chives and lemon zest. It’s good enough to eat with a spoon, and whether offered for comfort or as a tasty dish at a potluck, making this delicious dip is a wonderful way to show someone you love them. (While taking care of their health, too.)
Anyhow, I hope you’ll join me in the kitchen for a moment of thanksgiving: for my Papaw’s well-lived life, for the kindness of country cooks, and for the health-promoting power of food prepared with love…
- ½ c toasted pine nuts (see note)
- 3½ cups (2 15-oz cans) cooked cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 4 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (you'll need 2 lemons, with some juice left over)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ c chopped basil leaves (packed) (30 g)
- 2 Tbsp chopped chives (3 g)
- ½ tsp lemon zest
- In a food processor or blender, process pine nuts until nut butter is formed. (Stop processor and scrape sides 2-3 times as needed.) As pine nuts are soft, this should take less than 1 minute.
- Transfer pine nut butter to a small bowl and set aside. Wipe out food processor. (Blending beans separately from fat helps ensure fluffy hummus.)
- Combine beans and lemon juice in food processor until smooth, at least 3 minutes.
- Add pine nut butter and garlic to food processor and blend again until velvety smooth, another 3 minutes.
- Add basil, chives, and lemon zest. Pulse and scrape sides until mixed, leaving visible herbs.
- Garnish with extra basil, chives, or toasted pine nuts.