IN THE ARTS: VERLINDA’S SPAGHETTI PIE
By Malik Caldwell
It’s very rare that the Caldwell, Brown, and Blount family will have a gathering for a celebration and Verlinda is not on cooking duty. Whether it be a birthday, Sunday night dinner, having family in town, or a holiday you can always count on Verlinda to throw down in the kitchen. It’s become a tradition. Not only for our immediate family, but she extends her chefly duties to our church family as well. Watchnight service, pastor’s anniversary, church anniversary, women’s group, youth celebrations, and the like wouldn’t be the same without food putting a smile on everyone’s face. Loyal and dedicated to her family, as well as to her art, Verlinda has made Spaghetti Pie and Baked Macaroni renown.
Spaghetti Pie is a soulfood classic that truly does bring family together. Similar to lasagna but not quite, Spaghetti Pie is one of a kind. As for a little history, when asked, “When was the first time that you made Spaghetti Pie? Who taught you how to make it?” Verlinda recalls, “The first time that I made Spaghetti Pie was back in 1990. One of my coworkers taught me how to make it. I don’t remember her name. It was back Down South.” In regards to this culinary art, Verlinda has over 28 years of experience. It sounds like a dessert. It sounds like spaghetti. But Spaghetti Pie is unique.
Ingredients include ground turkey, spaghetti sauce, onions, green peppers, diced tomatoes, Italian sausage, garlic, spaghetti noodles, and a long list of cheeses including, cream cheese, sharp cheddar cheese, mild cheddar cheese, parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, and finally the Mexican blend cheese. According to Verlinda, the key to a delicious Spaghetti Pie that will have the whole community addicted is cooking the sauce over night and LOTS of cheese.
Verlinda’s cooking truly does have the whole community addicted. The types of reactions that she gets when she makes her dish are “‘Oh my gosh!’ There’s lots of excitement. And people want more. Folks fight over the leftovers. And it gets requested on a regular basis. When asked what makes her dish different from anyone else’s she responds with, “It’s the cream cheese. And love. Lots of cheese. And it’s a comfort food. It takes practice.” Verlinda’s younger cousin Ebony recalls, “It’s my comfort food. When I was pregnant with Kam, she made it for me and delivered it to me. It’s not like it was for everyone. It was made especially for me. It’s fire. It’s good. It’s super cheesy. I love it. I’ve never had anything like it before.”
Although it’s delicious, it’s deeper than just food. When asked, “What impact does your cooking have on the family?” Verlinda responds, “It brings everyone together. We all gather around food. The children have toys, the adults talk about life, tell stories, talk about what’s going on in the world.” In regards to her grandchildren, when asked, “What are the roles that grandchildren play in Spaghetti Pie?” Verlinda mentions, “Nehemiah says that it’s his favorite food.” She goes on to explain, “I teach him how to cook often. Like when I make Baked Macaroni, I let Nehemiah layer the cheese before we put it in the oven. He loves to help cook.”
Verlinda is a committed grandmother. Her grandchildren are her pride and joy. She is always spending time with them. Fictive kin and supportive networks are critical to the wellbeing of single mother households. “Research suggests that grandmother involvement is associated with better outcomes, including greater psychosocial adjustment, educational attainment, and better parenting (e.g., David et al., 1997; Wakschlag, Chase-Lansdale, & Brooks-Gunn, 1996)” (Jones 2006, p. 676). In regards to Nehemiah’s dad, Verlinda states, “I can show him the way that I raised him. He can learn from my experience as far as good things and not so good things to do.” Verlinda picks up her grandchild, Nehemiah, from school on a daily basis. She provides financial assistance, a place to stay, and consistent grandparental guidance. As a matter of fact, during the middle of a phone conversation this past week Nehemiah proudly stated, “I’m making sausage. Do you want to hear me put it in?” I respond with, “Yuummm, you’ll have to save some for me. Does grandma teach you how to cook often?” Without hesitation Nehemiah responds, “Yes. My favorite thing that Grandma teaches me how to make is pie because I roll it out, put all the stuff in it, and then she puts it in.”
When asked, “What impact does your spending time with Nehemiah have on him?” Verlinda responds, “He’s more calm. He laughs and smiles a lot with me.” She adds, “he likes to play Cconnect 4 with me, he asks me to take him to the park to ride his scooter and he actually does a lot better on his homework. He takes initiative to complete it and gets excited when I review it and check if it’s correct.” The positive impact that Verlinda has on her grandchildren’s life is insurmountable. Nehemiah loves to talk. He loves to play. He loves to get his homework done so that he can play. He loves to cook. According to Verlinda, through cooking he’s being taught, “how to be self sufficient. And reading. And learning how to measure stuff. Socially, he’s interacting with me, taking instructions, and gets to serve others.”
Overall, the positive benefits of grandmothers’ presence and their continuous involvement in their grandchildren’s lives are not to be taken lightly. In Verlinda’s case, she combines that presence and involvement with her artistic ability of creating delicious food. Her culinary gift creates not only infamous dishes like Spaghetti Pie but also is a way to forge a meaningful bond with her grandchild and bring everyone together.
Jones, D. J., Zalot, A. A., Foster, S. E., Sterrett, E., & Chester, C. (2006). A Review of Childrearing in African American Single Mother Families: The Relevance of a Coparenting Framework. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 16(5), 671-683. doi:10.1007/s10826-006-9115-0