Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Part of a family's culture is the food that they grew up with. With the fragmentation of families, the food traditions are weakening as well. I can only describe my mother's cooking and a little of my grandmother's . We were too distant to know what the other relatives were eating.

Mom's cooking

Mom’s best dishes were split pea soup, minestrone, chili con carne, and tomato aspic.

Mom was the main cook in the house, although pancakes and french toast were delegated by default to Dad who did a superb job with both.
Every now and then we'd have "pioneer stew" for supper. Mom would pronounce it "pioneer" with such passion that it evoked a mental image of my mother growing up in the Southwest with her cowboy parents. I really hated it. But when I grew up I made it myself, frequently, but was careful never to call it "pioneer stew". It was simply leftovers. I wonder when I crossed the line from loathing it to loving it.

People on Maryland's Eastern Shore joke that"mac and cheese" is considered a vegetable. In upstate New York, where I grew up, it was a main course, the core of a meatless meal. Mom's was made with cheddar cheese that we shredded ourselves and it was baked in a glass bowl or pan. Over time and my sister's and my sloppy dishwashing habits, the bowl would be marked at the top with the outlines of baked on macaroni. That marking indicated the location of the best part of the dish, the part where the cheese would concentrate and was very chewy.

Mom's meatloaf was made with bread, ground beef, sausage, onions, and an egg to hold it together. Once when Mom was in the hospital my Dad made a meatloaf. It was a chunk of ground beef with tomato sauce on top. Lacking the vital sausage ingredient, it didn't deserve to be called meatloaf. Turkey stuffing HAD to have sausage, the rest was whatever might be found around the house.

Mom came from the jello mold generation. We always enjoyed the ring shaped aspic. Mom was very creative and did many things with that jello mold. Sometimes the tomato aspic would have spanish olives or hard boiled eggs. And then there was a period of our eating history with apple jello with shredded lettuce and celery in it.

My sister has my mother's recipe for minestrone. I have never found a minestroni as good as my mother's.

baked beans

Like the macaroni and cheese, the baked beans were best around the edges where the well soaked beans would evolve like old people back to infancy and become crunchy. Mom was never stingy with the molasses.

Mom's domestic skills were gained, not by role models, but by virtue of her great intelligence. My mother, whose job it was to maintain the house cleaning, had no set routine, much to my father's great consternation. But when she set herself to the task, the house cleaning was thorough. Her cooking required quite a bit of time and planning, much more than American mothers do in the present day. One of the greatest skills my mother tried to pass on to her daughters was to have all of the parts of a meal show up at the table at the same time. Cooking with success was a topological feat in discrete mathematics. By making a critical path in scheduling, the food arrived hot, fresh, baked, cooled or gelled all at the same time.

Grandma Morse was not known for her cooking, neither good nor bad. She made a good pot roast with cloves, and a “shepherd’s pie” which was baking powder dumplings floating on a beef stew. Grandma was also fond of sweetened stewed tomatoes with bread. She presented it to us grandchildren like it was a treat. I never told her that I didn’t like it.

books on the table top
the family of man

pay the two dollars

cartoon book about having a baby

No comments: