The Joy of Cooking: Laughter, Learning and Love in the Kitchen

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Recently I realized that many of my favorite memories are from the kitchen. I’m not sure if it’s because I love good food or because of the laughter, learning and loving that went on in that room. I also think it might be because of all the love that goes into growing it from the farmers’ end.

I have recipes passed down from family members written on cards, scraps of paper and even a napkin in my recipe book, and I can’t pick it up without happy memories swamping me.

There’s my Goma’s shortbread recipe my dad still makes every Christmas, even though my Goma passed when I was 6. It still tastes the same, and I have to believe that it’s due to the love that goes into making them.

My Grandpa George’s famous spaghetti recipe would feed an army. He passed that on to my mom, and I can still remember waking up to the smell of it wafting through the house. As an adult, I found out the reason Mom started so early in the morning was so my sisters and I wouldn’t know all the ingredients that went into the pot (we didn’t like onions and peppers, and a whole bunch of them go into the sauce!). By the time we got up, it was all a simmering, yummy red sauce with no icky-looking substances in it. We would take turns during the day standing on the stool to stir the ginormous pot of sauce on the stove, bubbling away so our mouths watered in anticipation of dinner. I make at least one pot every year and freeze containers of it so I can pull it out throughout the year and have some homemade goodness just a microwave away.

I always loved my grandma’s homemade lemon meringue pie and wanted to make it on my own – until she sent me the recipe, which took up three recipe cards, both front and back. When she said homemade, she meant all-the-way homemade – from the lemon tree in her backyard homemade! I have never had the courage to try preparing it, but I cherish the memories of standing on the stool she had just for small feet to help her cook in the kitchen.

My Aunt Kathy and I always prepared and stuffed the turkey at Thanksgiving. I loved that special time with my aunt as we got all the freshly dried herbs out to put in the food processor. To this day, I can’t smell sage, rosemary, thyme or marjoram without smiling and thinking of Thanksgiving and Aunt Kathy. Putting the stuffing in was also fun and precarious, as we tried to make it all stay in. The Thanksgiving when we accidentally put powdered sugar instead of flour in the bag to cook the turkey in will never be lived down in our family, even though it was only once in the many, many years we have been doing it.

See more: From Roots to Wings: Melissa Bratton Shares the View From Her Spot on the Rock

My dad was the king of chocolate chip cookies in our house, and my sisters and I always “helped” by surrounding him on the countertop with spoons, ready to be his official taste-testers before and after the chocolate chips were added. We were experts at saying, “Hmm, I don’t know, it may need more (fill in the blank).” We switched from sugar to vanilla to whatever popped into our heads before exclaiming, “Let me taste it again!” The fun part about making them with Dad is that he would always have some sort of music playing on the radio to which, depending on the song, we all sang along with the spoons as our microphones, Dad included. I’m pretty sure, and to this day I swear it, chocolate chip cookies taste better if you sing to them while making them.

As an adult, I appreciate so much more the memories made in the kitchen. At the root of the matter, especially because of my chosen career of advocating for agriculture, I am so grateful for all the hard work, sweat and love that come from the farmers as they grow and raise the ingredients that allow me to pass on those memories to my children. The advice, stories and laughter that go along with making any recipe are ingredients not listed on the recipe card, but, at least in my book, are part of what makes each dish so delicious and memorable each and every time you eat it. Even though life is busy, I hope I always remember to take the time to bake and laugh, and teach my children about the history and love that goes into making food in the kitchen, because that is a priceless treasure I cherish from my childhood and today with my family.

Melissa Burniston Bratton - sisters

Melissa Burniston Bratton, right, with her sisters, Mallarie Burniston Graybeal and Michelle Burniston Hansen. Photo by Wolfe’s Photography

Editor's Note

Our editor, coworker and dear friend Melissa Bratton was everything to the Farm Bureau family. No matter who you were or what you were doing, she made you feel better. She always had the perfect words to say, and, as you all know, the perfect words to write
on these pages. Sadly, just days before this issue of Tennessee Home & Farm went to print, we lost her to a severe brain tumor. Her first column in the previous issue was intuitively titled “From Roots to Wings,” and there’s no doubt our incredible writer has her wings now.

We loved so much about Melissa. Her infectious smile, contagious laughter and can-do attitude made every day better. Ever since she was an intern in our communications department 15 years ago, her “ginormous” heart has been evident. She constantly kept us upbeat, inspired and loved when we needed it most. And on top of that, she approached every task with a passion for getting the job done well. She loved God, her husband, two precious children and the work she did for people, and boy, did she cherish her time in those East Tennessee mountains with family. Our team wishes more than anything you could have gotten to know our Melissa more, but please know this: She appreciated each of you and the time you spent reading the stories in this magazine. It made her feel so happy and purposeful to share the story of agriculture.

Her winter column, above, couldn’t be a better representation of Melissa – sweet like chocolate chip cookies and filled with treasured family memories, a reminder to us all to savor our time with loved ones, especially as we gather together for the holidays.

Her hope for this column was to conclude each one with a small phrase – “The root of the matter is…” And friends, the root of the matter is: She was taken from this world too soon, but her legacy of love she shared with all of us and all of you will last forever.

– Tennessee Farm Bureau Communications Team


  1. Janie Gentry

    November 12, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    My tears flowed as I read Melissa’s last column. I’ve known her family for more than 40 years and I know that they were proud of the beautiful Christian wife and mother that she was. I, too, wish everyone of your readers could have known her personally.

  2. Julie

    November 23, 2019 at 9:30 pm

    She was a gem.❤️

  3. Janice P. Carr

    November 24, 2019 at 12:45 pm

    She certainly left her legacy and love with the Farm Bureau Family, Communications Family and especially its director. May she live on in all of our memories. God bless her husband and two sweet babies.

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