Before I became a sister, I had cooked meals for my family as a teenager. In earlier days and in our larger convents, some sisters became skilled in cooking, baking and preparing food for as many as 100 members! In those times the Motherhouse kitchen was a productive place and often the meals were prepared in stages. If the breakfast menu included grapefruit, they were cut the night before and the sections in each half were cut to make it easier to eat. Every sister knew the juicy fruit could splash onto the collars we wore on the front of our habits! Large trays of grapefruit were refrigerated overnight, ready for the early morning breakfast. Large coffee pots were set up and milk poured into pitchers on carts, then rolled into institutional refrigerators, too. These preparations made it possible to serve the greatest number of sisters quickly after morning Mass.
When I had finished initial formation and went to a parish to teach young children, smaller groups of sisters lived together in convents and all of us learned to give our service by preparing the “main meal” which was usually supper. We came together as a community and supper was valued as we all took turns making it. If you were someone who didn’t cook before you came to the convent, you were partnered with a skilled sister for a few months. But even if the meal came to the table with a few burned edges, or some soggy vegetables, the efforts of the “budding cook” were appreciated and she improved with encouragement!
Today, sisters take turns shopping for groceries, finding recipes to make, cooking and setting the table for the evening meal. Everybody helps wash and dry the dishes. Doing dishes together is called “a bonding experience” by our new members!
A sister will write her name onto a community calendar that hangs in the kitchen for the weeknight supper she is willing to cook. A glance at the calendar tells others in the community there will be a meal ready for supper. However, sometimes if no one has signed up for the night, the leftovers in the refrigerator will have to do! Humorously, these leftovers are called “Review for Religious” because the food had been served on another night. At other times a frozen pizza is baked and a salad is tossed together for the meal.
Because we are an international community, there are members who will make food they learned from their mothers and grandmothers. There might be German sausage and potato salad; Mediterranean humus, pita bread and eggplant parmesan; even Filipino entrées and side dishes with flan for sweet dessert! These are special meals served with love! Luckily in Milwaukee, there are neighborhood grocery stores that carry nationality foods — spices, noodles and special fruits not commonly found. Besides creating suppers as a service to the community, the flavors of the world are served at our tables!
By Sr. Karlyn Cauley, SDS