Come to My Table

Shannon Denney - Milwaukee, Wisconsin
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, November 26, 2010
Shannon Denney

With four generations living under one roof, life in Shannon Denney’s house can be chaotic, but she insists on serving a home-cooked meal each night. Denney believes preparing and sharing food demonstrates her love for her family and friends.

Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: family, love
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Every night at about six o’clock, I put dinner on the table. I know that I’m in the minority here, still eating dinner around the table with my family, but I’m used to the idea of being different. My family is different; we have four generations of women—all cooks—living under one, thankfully very big, roof. When you come to my house you’ll find all five of us in the kitchen, from my grandmother who is ninety-five to my youngest, who just turned nine.

When you come and visit us for dinner, you’ll come into the kitchen, too. You’ll sit on a stool and be in everyone’s way, and we will laugh and tell stories and cook. When the cooking is done, we will sit around the table and share it with you, because if you’re in our house, you’re family.

I believe in the power of food. I’m not talking about an obsession with food, but with the ability to prepare it. It’s a powerful feeling to be able to make food for your family. It’s a deep, nurturing, almost primal feeling. I think of Italian mothers who demand “Mangia,” and Jewish mothers who worry their children, “Eat, eat!” Making my great-grandmother’s chicken and dumplings or my grandmother’s coconut pie connects my family to our past in a way that no frozen meal or take-out box ever could. I think of my family’s stories from times when we were poor, but there was always food. My family grew it, canned it, preserved it, and served it on the table three times a day.

Why the urgency? Because mothers can’t control the weather, we can’t control accidents, we can’t control those other people who are outside our families (and sometimes we can’t even control our own families). When our children go out the door they carry our hearts with them, for they are our very hearts. We mothers can’t protect them from every ill or evil that might befall them, try as we might.

But we can control what goes into the bodies of those we love. It’s like saying, “Here, eat this beef stroganoff because I love you so much I want you to carry a part of my love in every cell of your body and in your mind as you remember the richness of the sauce and the time that I spent preparing it the way that you like it because it is your favorite and I love you.”

What do our children hear? “Mangia!” “Eat!” What are we saying? “I love you.” And we pray that our babies will remember what it tasted like as well as how much they are loved.

When you come to my table, and I hope that you do, I will fix your favorite foods. Friends and family tell me that they’ve never had a bad meal here, and I hope it follows through to you. I pray that you will say, “This is what it’s supposed to taste like.” That means that you taste the love and care that I put into it. I prepare it with love, and you carry my love in the very cells of your body. That’s power.

Although trained as an attorney, Shannon Lee Denney’s first love is cooking. She is a single mother of two daughters living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Ms. Denney began learning to cook at her mother’s side when she was a child, and she is teaching her daughters to cook the same way.