Crowded Tables

The T.G.I.T. regulars, circ. 2015

When I was in college the first time around, my sister gave me a serving dish for Christmas. A very special serving dish – one big enough to hold a double batch of my family’s banana pudding recipe without me having to worry about spillage or excess.

Some of you will understand the significance of a good banana pudding recipe, and some of you are foreigners.

All of you should know that when I say I’ve received marriage proposals over this pudding recipe, I’m not joking.

And neither were the proposers.

An unexpected side perk of this marvelously sized dish was that it could also hold an oversized recipe of dough when I made my aunt’s scones on Thursday nights.

Scones were Thursday night supper at the apartment for young Jenni and her housemates and anyone who wanted to drop in for Grey’s Anatomy and angst.

I’ve already told you about my mother’s sourdough (Happy Birthday Herman! 28 years and counting!)

Whether it’s a chili recipe from another aunt, a peanut noodles recipe from a dear friend, or “real American” chocolate chip cookies baked for my classes when they need the extra boost, or the complete cookbook my Grandmommie labored on for years, these are the things that are inherited in my family: food, recipes, and the experiences that go with them.

For almost two years now, I have listened to The Highwomen’s “Crowded Table” on repeat, and all I can think of is how intimately food and love are bound up together in my life. Recipes are passed down, meals are shared and mythologized in family lore, food is how we love.

And crowded tables are among my favorite things.

I am not alone in this. I once read somewhere that in old fairytales (the dark kind, the ones where the fairies aren’t always so nice) the kitchen is the heart of the home. A place to be both mythologized and protected.

Coming from a home where nothing separates the kitchen and the table but empty air and a stretch of perpetually cluttered counter, I believe that. The kitchen, the table, and what fills both spaces, is sacred.

As the poet tells us, “The world begins at the kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.”

I do not know if I’m built to have a family of my own one day. If there’s a husband, 2.5 children and dog in my future, they are further off than I can see from here.

I do know that I’m built for crowded tables.

Whether crowded with friends or cousins or cats, I am made to share meals. I look forward to a future when I am settled enough in my life, work, and living situation, to do so regularly.

So here’s to the world beginning anew with the dawn of this new year, and here’s to your tables. Wherever they are, whatever form they take, may they be crowded with the people (and dishes) you love best.

And may your days be merry and bright.

Chase thunder,


Scrumptious Banana Pudding

1 large box instant vanilla pudding

2 cups cold milk

1/2 cup sour cream

1 can Eagle Brand Sweetened-Condensed Milk

1 (8oz) carton Cool Whip


Vanilla Wafers


Mix pudding and milk. Add sour cream, Eagle Brand, and Cool Whip. Mix until smooth. Slice bananas. Layer bananas and vanilla wafers with pudding. Chill. Top with vanilla wafers before serving.

Courtesy of Kim Smiley and the Friona Texas Friends of the Library Cookbook, 1995

5 thoughts on “Crowded Tables

  1. Yes, Jen. I too share a table that is only feet from the stove and the sink and the counter where I have to move the mail, the Important to-do lists forgotten about, in order to sift the flour for the crust for the family mince pie (real meat and no candied fruit yuk?). You will find your crowded tables, and their inhabitants will continue to grow and change. Hugs, Jeannine



      1. Nice article Jen. I remember giving you the chili recipe a number of years ago. As you know Gran loved to cook and eat. I guess I get it from him as he got it from his mother Grandma Rogers, your name sake. She loved cooking for family and every Sunday cooked lunch for family,mostly Rita’s family. I even remember big Sunday lunches that my great grandmother would have with family members all around the table I have in my dining room. So, you could say food runs in the de Bie/Stewart side of our family for sure. I love to cook also especially when we have company.. love you, Au t Sheri


      2. Thank you, Aunt Sheri! I love that chili recipe – though I have to 1/2 it every time I make it because none of my pots are big enough for the full batch! I love how important food is to our family, and how long running the tradition of cooking and eating together is. Love you so much! I need to try and skype/facetime/something, y’all soon so I can see this shiny new place of yours!


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