My Mother’s Recipe – Jovan Mays & Mallary McHenry Jr.

Photo: Emma Frances Logan

When we were young
we didn’t appreciate our mother’s cooking.
We would stare at the plate
willing broccoli to GO AWAY.
But today is different.

I remember hearing Cindy Lawrie
ask for the recipe of her favorite dish
& my mother explained
that she could not duplicate this.
This was my mother’s bread of sorrows.

I remember it.
She said,
“when makin’ sweet bread
we need a bowl the size of Birmingham.
Make sure it’s not segregated
I want everyone to feast.”

She would say,
“My butter was churned by hand.
Milked from my motherland.
Takin’ the same milk of my history,
diluting my people to livestock,
skimming off the backs of blacks
to build Antebellum houses
that made the South
want to rise again like cornbread.”

She wasn’t just a cook in that kitchen.
Full time doctor-alchemist-magician.
She could make that cream
cook, cleanse, & cure.

When friends asked her about margarine,
She laughed, said
“Margarine is made of pretty things”
40 acres & a mule,
equality, reparations,
straight hair, & freedom.
Things that just were not real.

So no!
She did not use margarine
She used butter
thick, unrelenting,
get-all-over-everything butter.
the kind you have to strain to bind.

Like sitting in the back of balconies & buses.
“Churn it”
Like having dry ice thrown at her
because she was a different type of sugar.
“Churn it more”

Sometimes she would have to take over for me.
Because I didn’t understand that she was erasing the past with
Every. Single. Agitation.
Wondering why she would tear up.
“You have to churn it, boy!”

‘Till the south is too suppressed to rise.
‘Till it’s white & entitled
like Bull Connor’s tank in an all-black neighborhood.
Like them shepherds k9’s sinking into our skin.

“Beat it!
So they can’t see the darkness in this meal.
Beat it!
Like a white hood just appeared in this room.
Let me show you how painful this is.”

& she refuses to forget,
because going through restaurant drive-thru windows
still feels like you’re going around the back.

& you wonder why you need water to wash this down.
Because if you didn’t, you would feel the countless
Butter-worth Jemimas climbing your esophagus
with wooden spoons & spatulas.

Wash it down
until your gut feels like a hull.
Bet you didn’t know that in the belly of your ship
there were grunts paddling your digestion
no wonder it’s called the Middle Passage.

To this day I wonder what kept her
cooking for friends like Cindy Lawrie.
What kept her from back handing them every time
they asked her “Alfreda what did you put in this?”
or “Mrs. McHenry” can I get that recipe?”

She would always say,
“Give thanks to God for all things”
The good & the bad.
Martin Luther King Jr. & James Earl Ray.
John Brown & Jim Crow.
Shining steeples & burnt crosses.

makes her flour.
It’s forgiveness.
Forgiveness isn’t big on measuring.
Forgiveness isn’t big on accuracy.
Just like my momma.

A pinch of salt here.
Like her father waiting
at Sears and Roebucks until
closing before whites would
let him buy clothes.

A sprinkle of sugar there.
Her remembering the day
she was allowed to enter a library
alongside white people.

In the spirit of Nat Turner, Emmet Till, 4 little girls.
Momma is whisking together gender & race.
Hopes & dreams.
The past to the present.

& the secret, she told us was,
“Son, just keep tasting
‘till you get the flavor you want.
Until, there are no more tears.
Just keep tasting
until the anger becomes harmonious.
Just keep tasting
until the sadness becomes savory.
Just. Keep. Tasting.”

But this isn’t store bought processed white bread.
& now Cindy Lawrie you can have this recipe.
But you still can’t make this dish


Mallary McHenry Jr. (Poet Without Apology) and Jovan Mays were members of  Denver’s Slam Nuba, a nationally ranked poetry slam team. Both have a mutual passion for poetry and helping those in need.  “My Mother’s Recipe” is a poem dedicated to Mrs. McHenry and all the women who grew up feeling the weight of Jim Crow. Their life experiences cooked into every meal and their recipes cannot be duplicated without understanding the struggles that made them


This poem is from our first print collection
of poetry,  “Thought For Food”, an anthology
benefiting Denver Food Rescue. To support
our fundraiser, please visit this link.

Thought For Food Promotional 1

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