I met Maya Angelou in the seventh grade. An excerpt from “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was required reading for Mrs. Wagner's Literature class. Maya's stories of “the store”, adventures with her beloved brother Bailey, and the community she found herself in grabbed my heart.
It wasn't until years later, of course, that I really understood her writing. Maya's writings became a constant companion in my life. I'd listen to her memoirs on CD while I drove, read her poetry when life pressed down a little too hard and sent words of wisdom from “Miss Maya” to friends both when they needed it and just because.
Then, the woman who called herself “a cook, a driver, and a writer”, wrote a cookbook, “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table”. Like all of Maya's writing, the book invited you both into her world and also deeper into your own. Since it was a cookbook, she shared recipes from her journey. The Caramel Cake her beloved grandmother made in Stamps. Braised short ribs from the time she worked as a cook at a Creole Cafe. The Smoothed Chicken she made for a friend called Oprah.
It's a cookbook I've read again and again. And again.
Last night, after spending much of the day thinking about Maya and her influence on my life, I cracked open her cookbook and looked around. I wanted to make something. But I wasn't sure what. As I flipped through the pages, I saw the recipe for cornbread. In the morning, before the news of Maya's passing reached the world, I'd put pulled pork in the slow cooker. Cornbread and pulled pork. Perfect.
The original recipe called for cracklings (fried pork rinds) but I didn't have any on hand. I felt fine omitting them because one of the themes throughout her cookbook is what a fabulous improvisational cook Maya was throughout her life. So I stirred together the ingredients--less the cracklings-- poured the batter into my well-seasoned cast-iron pan, and baked.
About twenty minutes later a perfect cornbread came out of the oven. As we enjoyed the bread and spending time with each other, Maya once again nourished me.