Food Friendly May: Mom’s… Fill In the Blank

Ah, Mom’s famous… well, it might be almost anything from Duck a l’orange to ‘call to the Chinese take out.’

Most people assume that part of being a mother is being a really great cook. Funny thing, though, mothers are really just like people sometimes, and each individual one may be better at one thing than another. Some of them really aren’t good cooks. Some don’t have the time. Some don’t have the talent. Some can make fabulous meals out of nothing, and some still couldn’t produce something vaguely edible even if an army of professional chefs stood at her elbow instructing her. Still others are fine within a specific range, but not so good when they venture beyond the borders of what their mothers taught them.

My mother? Well, she was one of those women who have a real gift. The kitchen was her realm and all the foodstuffs within bowed to her will gladly. Sure, she had the occasional disaster, like that Thanksgiving when the cranberry jelly never really jelled. And her pie crust, well, let’s just say that from the time I made my first one, she never bothered to try making one for herself again. If she needed pie crust, she called me in.

But aside from those little wrinkles, yeah, I grew up with a mom whose cooking really rocked.

Still, there are particular dishes that I remember more fondly than others. Her potato salad spoiled me rotten. It involved vinegar in the potatoes, a top layer of sour cream, and decorative slices of hard boiled egg. It was bracing, yet decadent all at once. And at Thanksgiving she made this amazingly delicious cranberry sherbet that was served as a palate cleanser with the meal.

I only wish I had the recipes.

But more than her cooking, I remember spending time with her in the kitchen. From early childhood, I would post myself on a stool at the counter and chat with her while she cooked. Later, she taught me the basics of making a good meal. Sometimes we even worked in tandem. Hanging with Mom in the kitchen is quite possibly my favorite way to remember her.

What about your moms? Great cook or lousy? Did she teach you to cook? Was she an object lesson? Did you teach her? Any particular dishes – brilliant or terrifying – you want to tell us about?

11 Responses to “Food Friendly May: Mom’s… Fill In the Blank”

  1. dr nic May 12, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    My mother has always been a baker. She can cook too, but most of my favorite memories of her are baking with her in the kitchen. She definitely had a reputation as a master baker among friends, neighbors, and family and she passed those skills (and recipes) on to me. Thankfully, I’ve got most of her best recipes, including some of her mother’s (still written in the original metric measurements). When I lived at home, we baked 3-4 dozen of 12+ varieties of cookies every year. Now that I’m married and out of the house, we divide the list and share. And if I’m stuck on something in the kitchen (like last week when I attempted her cream puffs and couldn’t get the dough right after three attempts) I call her to help me fix it.

    Probably my favorite of all her recipes is for a pie no one eats anymore. She called it French Chocolate Pie. It was her basic pie crust filled with a wonderful filling that consisted of chocolate, sugar, eggs and butter. Since it is a no-bake filling and therefore has raw eggs no one really wants to eat it any more. Well, that and the nearly pound of butter making up the filling. It was rich, decadent, super sweet and perfect. So perfect that for years I had that instead of cake on my birthday, and she would make me an individual pie every time she made one.

  2. Andrea May 12, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    My mom is an amazing cook! She was a State Dept. brat, so she grew up all over the world and was used to eating the local foods. This means she cooked us food from all over the world. In fact, the only failures she had were from trying to cook typical American food. My favorite dish is something very simple, but I always request for my birthday: Cuban black beans and rice.

  3. ZaftigWendy May 12, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    My mom was an adventurous cook. But not always a good one. She honestly had more fails than wins, unless she stuck to the traditional protein-veggie-carb-creamsoup-cheese casserole format. Her casseroles were delicious! Especially the spinach casserole. We girls all make it for our kids now!

    DAD was the really good cook. He could make anything! But I’ll save that story for Father’s Day.

  4. MissPrism May 12, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    I don’t remember my mum cooking for enjoyment much, and don’t really have fond round-the-kitchen-table memories. But I do know she’s very good at cooking for crowds – I mean 50 people kind of crowds, not just dinner parties – without breaking sweat. She has a few recipes that work reliably, scale up well, and can be cooked beforehand and either served cold or reheated, and she keeps presentational fuss to an absolute minimum.

    I absolutely love to cook and bake, but have not inherited this knack. I’m more the type who’ll freak out at 7.55pm because two guests are arriving at 8 and I forgot to chill the wine and the new sauce recipe I wanted to try went all lumpy and while I was frantically shoving it through a sieve the cat licked the cream off the pudding and AAAARGH.

  5. TropicalChrome May 12, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    What Mom cooked, she cooked well. She tried to teach me to cook, but her style of teaching and mine of learning did not mesh well, so I grew up thinking I hated to cook. Actually, it turns out I’m quite a good cook, perhaps even better than Mom because I’m a LOT more adventurous.

    The one thing Mom did well that I don’t is pie. I chalk that up to the fact that I’m very take it or leave it when it comes to pie – yeah, it’s good, but I’d rather have a good cake. Mom entered her pies in local contests and won more often than not. (And heresy of heresies, I really prefer a cookie crumb crust or a short crust to traditional pie crust.)

    Fortunately, long before Mom died, I made sure she wrote down all my favorite recipes. So I have her recipe for potato salad and shrimp and macaroni salad and ham and potato casserole and American Chop Suey and baked honey custard and bread and butter pickles and meat loaf and all the favorite Christmas cookies and the white frosting that stays soft at room temperature that came from my grandmother’s best friend. I may not make them all that often, but I have them.

    Yeah, I have her pie crust recipe too.

  6. TeleriB May 12, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

    We had a tiny, tiny kitchen my mother hated her entire life. I think she would have liked to have had the time and space to really put together meals, but most days of the week, it was a basic… I think it’s called a French plate? (some sort of broiled meat, serving of frozen or canned vegetable, serving of rice or potato)

    There were a few doozies. The most infamous dinner had to be a meatloaf that somehow got a chip from the Pyrex baking dish in it. Glass in the meatloaf was sort of a nadir, my father’s attempt a mackerel-and-carrots stir-fry possibly excepted. (The *dog* wouldn’t eat that.)

    On the other hand, she was a cookie queen. We had homemade cookies in our lunches more days than we didn’t. Chocolate chip was the staple, but there were peanut butter and sugar cookies, snickerdoodles, maple waffle cookies, no-bake chocolate-peanut butter-oatmeal “cookies,” something called “breakfast in a cookie,” “Martian” cookies (that had shredded zucchini in them), and chocolate crinkles and pizzelles at Christmas. So many cookies.

  7. Desideria May 13, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    Ditto, TeleriB. My mom, too, hails from the Royal House of Cookie. Along with many of the tasty treats you mention, Mom’s repertoire includes peppermint pennies, coconut mountains, whipped shortbread, thimble cookies, stained-glass cookies, soft molasses cookies, ginger snaps, gingerbread, snowballs, rum balls, raisin-spice cookies…. Having been raised on the home-made version, I must admit to being a certified cookie snob: boxed, store-bought, so-called “cookies” simply aren’t worth the caloric consideration.

  8. ChaChaHeels May 14, 2012 at 8:06 am #

    My mom was very skilled, and liked to experiment as well. She would go into little “projects” with her cooking, where she must have decided she would learn to do a particular thing perfectly. Some of these projects took more time to master than others. She went through a pastry chef phase, where she wanted to learn how to make puff pastry, pastry creams (custards laced with different flavourings, mostly rum or specific liquers), and different desserts like trifles, tarts and pies and various cakes that were different from ones she’d made when she learned to cook. We would have a long stretch of puff pastry “swans” stuffed with Strega liquer custard and whipped cream; followed by an obsession to master the pineapple upside down cake, then complicated stuff like sfogliatelle. One year she tried stuffed Cannoli and she loved those, so she devised a recipe for the cannoli itself, which have to be fried until they are crisp and light. She devised and made up metal tubes to wrap the dough around before putting them into the hot oil, so that they’d make perfect crispy pastry tubes (you could then just squeeze the metal form out from the cooled pastry, they were actually really ingenious). So home made cannoli stuffed with different pastry creams or sweetened ricotta cream became her thing for a long while. I don’t think pastries were an “every day” thing where she came from because she could make any thing else but she was intent on making things she didn’t have any experience with when she was left to her own devices. We got the benefits of her desire to learn about them.

    There are a million dishes she made I’d love to eat again–scrippelle wrapped around grated parmiggiano and cracked black pepper, submersed in rich homemade chicken broth; her homemade gnocchi (I made them along with her for a long time, but mine never taste like hers did); even a stuffed squid recipe she made once and accidentally ruined with mint toothpicks (and never made again–all toothpicks look the same, but she was mortified by that). But my favourite since childhood was what she’d tell us was “yellow rice”–saffron risotto.

  9. margie May 14, 2012 at 9:52 am #

    My mother is a wonderful cook. Although she hates to cook. In our family, dad has always been the cook. (Worked in a restaurant as a young adult and loves to cook/bake…) But growing up, dad worked long hours in a factory and mom was a stay at home mom, so cooking was a necessity. It was a job. I think that is why she hates it. But we loved her meals. Every morning we had hot breakfasts before school. Lunches were basic sandwiches and chips since I was embarrassed to take left over mexican food from last night’s dinner. Ever since dad retired from GM, mom retired from cooking. To this day though, she makes THE best fried chicken. It’s the one thing that she has on dad and I always make the effort to remind them of this! I think she likes the fact that although dad is “the cook” she can do one thing in the kitchen better than he can! We even for years have talked about having a “Fried Chicken Cook-Off” so that we can each make our own versions of fried chicken and decide who’s is the best. I have to say though that I learned all of my cooking skills from both of them. Mom taught me how to cook simple and fast meals that work well straight out of work. She also taught me how to make something out of not very much. Dad taught me how to cook without fear (the concept that “i like this and i like this, so let’s see what happens if combine them…”) and how to cook for large parties. He also taught me that cooking is all about making what you enjoy eating and being so excited about it that you want everyone else to enjoy it too. p.s. It is also extra nice to be able to inherit the already seasoned since my youth large comal (cast iron griddle) for making tortillas as a housewarming gift ;)

  10. Jelly May 14, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

    My mother’s style of cooking was relatively basic: pasta with tomato meat sauce (veggies added), cook steak until there’s not a hint of red, mushrooms with steak… I started learning from her as soon as I could see over the oven, and by the time I was 14, was doing most of it. Mom’s arthritis rather ruined the joy of cooking for her.

    However, though what she taught me was pretty basic, she also somehow encouraged me to grow beyond those basics. Steak and mushrooms? Toss some red wine in. Ricotta in your pasta sauce? Why not? I wouldn’t say I’m the next Emeril or anywhere close to Iron Chefery, but she gave me a good basic start, and I’m very glad for it.

  11. Kath May 24, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    My mother was an ATROCIOUS cook. She would boil the crap out of everything, or dry fry it until it was like a piece of boot leather. Gross.

    But luckily for me, my Grandma is an amazing cook, and I learned at her side. Her food is not fancy, but it’s hearty, tasty and comforting. She taught me her skill of cooking by “feel” – really cooking by chemistry. When you know what ingredients cause which chemical reactions, you can create pretty much anything (and rescue any disasters!)