Cooking Keeps the Cuddebacks Around the Table
Professor John Cuddeback, Ph.D., leads an intensely Catholic life. He is a philosophy professor at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. He also works his own farm, where he raises heritage pigs on acorns and assorted crops of fruits and vegetables. He also writes his own blog, Bacon From Acorns (BaconFromAcorns.com) about issues of living the good life at home. The author of True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness, Cuddeback is a frequent lecturer at several Catholic organizations, including the Institute of Catholic Culture, headquartered in northern Virginia.
But of all the activities that take his time and talent, he says his family comes first. “A strong home life is essential to living the faith,” he said.
“In this day and age, there are so many assaults on the family that are tearing it apart,” he said. “Strong forces are pulling us away from the home, leaving many people feeling disconnected and isolated. We need to counter those forces, since inside the home is where we forge the most important connections in our life. Strong parishes require strong, faith-filled homes.”
A timely reminder for the feast of the Holy Family, which is celebrated Dec. 30 this year.
And for the Cuddeback family, with four children presently living at home, food leads to faith, through tending the family farm, cooking its produce and enjoying meal times together. “Preparing food together and eating it together are two activities that should stand at the center of the shared life of the household,” Cuddeback said. “The realm of food preparation and consumption provides the most natural, daily context for being connected with family members. This is something I address on my blog, in my teaching and in my lecturing, and I intend to write more about it.”
The first step in Cuddeback family bonding: working together on the farm, called Faire Knowe, after a Scottish homestead in a Walter Scott novel.
“The kids help with the garden, and one of our sons has taken over the hunting for deer and now wild turkeys,” Cuddeback said. The children help by picking the crops — lettuce, chard, squash, cucumbers and other vegetables, as well as fruit that varies from year to year, such as figs, peaches, apples, blueberries, wild blackberries and honey from their own beehives.
The next bonding step is in the kitchen. The parents have taught all of their children to cook, setting up a regular cooking rotation schedule among the six children. That way, each learns the responsibility of food preparation. “My older children have become good cooks,” Cuddeback said. “With the younger ones, they tend to make things like tacos, which, because we try to make things from scratch, still take a bit of work. Sometimes we make our own salsa. I like the idea of simple meals in the skill set reach of kids. These are often just as yummy as other meals.”
Cuddeback credits his daughter Josefina, 14, for making the beloved pasta tomato sauce for the family’s popular spaghetti-and-meatball dinner. “The tomatoes are from our harvest,” he said. “She cuts up the tomatoes and puts the pieces in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper at 200 degrees for a number of hours.” The tomatoes are oven-roasted until they are slightly crisp and browned. When they are finished cooking, she blends them into a paste. “This is astoundingly good,” her father said.
Despite the family’s busy schedule, the parents try to balance everyone’s daily activities so they enjoy family dinner together. “We try to give a special place to Sunday meals together. We are conscious of protecting these meals,” Cuddeback said. “Interestingly, many people think other things are more worth their time and cut out meal preparation and sitting down to eat together. But these are key ways to strengthen personal bonds, and even our faith.”
Because he tended his family’s suburban Maryland garden as a youngster, Cuddeback learned very early to appreciate the connection of mankind to food through farming as part of God’s plan. He also learned that a strong link exists between living the faith and food and fellowship. As he said, “Food is about so much more than nutritional needs.”
Alexandra Greeley writes from northern Virginia.