First published in the Lady’s Home Journal in the late 1950’s, “Babette’s Feast” was written by Karen Blixen, also of “Out of Africa” fame, and was eventually made into a book. A Danish film adaptation was released in 1987 with English subtitles, which causes me to feel very artsy every time I view this favorite.
Set in the 19th century, the tale culminates with the protagonist, Babette, using every last cent she has, to prepare a gourmet French meal for the ungrateful Danish townspeople who have taken her in and provided refuge for many years. Unfortunately, Babette’s stoic friends, who were accustomed to eating only bland fish and porridge, did not appreciate her expert culinary skills. They never even realized she was a classically trained chef. Babette’s backbreaking labor and professional cooking talents not only went unappreciated, but the delicacies were actually scorned. Poor Babette’s culinary masterpiece was totally shunned and wasted on these close – minded people.
In a simplified and modern way, I empathize with Babette. My husband and I try to have a sit down family meal with our two boys every night. I’m no match for Babette with her expert kitchen skills, but I do what I can. Having two quick-witted, and sporadically mischievous boys often proves to be a challenge to having a civilized dinner experience. (I know all my friends with daughters are sitting around their perfect dinner tables with civilized conversation, spotless manners and beautiful big fluffy hair bows — right?).
At our house, we breath a sigh of relief when we all finish dinner and no one has been sent to their room, had food flung from their plates or fallen off their chair. Many nights I wonder if my efforts are appreciated or even noticed. Like Babette, I often find it disheartening to labor in vain.
The larger theme of Blixen’s story is that like Babette, God also provides us with a bounty of goodness and gourmet delights of the spirit, yet our predictable routines cause us to overlook and sometimes even ignore the delightful gifts he delivers each day.
Stunning sunset? Seen a million of them, keep driving. A child’s laughter? Be quite! A call from an old friend? Yawn, already read about it on Facebook.
Babette wanted her friends to taste the best she had to offer, yet they were too disinterested to recognize the greatness she gave. God also wants us to enjoy his best gifts, not because we deserve them, but because he loves us and wants us to experience the good things in life.
It’s the same reason, that night after night, Mothers all over the world take a deep breath, set the table, and put another home cooked meal in front of their families when they could easily toss them a cold bag of burgers.
We love our children and want them to experience new things, the best we have to offer, whether they deserve it or not.
And when tired Mothers receive the occasional burst of joy from a smiling little mouth, sometimes still full of food, we feel the gratitude, and it’s suddenly all worthwhile, because they’ve finally learned to appreciate the feast.
*This story first appeared in my column, Southern with a Gulf Coast accent.