|My Mom with my Niece Mel at her Wedding reception|
Before I get into some of the lighter culinary moments, I do need to point out that several of Mom's meals rank high on my list of things I would want for my last meal. Dad was in the Navy and I am sure that he urged her to cook Navy Beans and ham with a side of cornbread. I have started using pinto beans not those plain white beans that I use only in my white chicken chili. Our next door neighbor, Carrie Longhoffer taught Mom to make kraut rolls (aka beeroaks, Bieroaks or bierocks) the same way she learned from her mother-in-law. I can sit down and eat a plate full of them. Barb remembers that the baked steak my mom served her for her first meal in the family was one she always remembers. Ground steak, onions, potato, seasoning in an aluminum foil packet that is baked for about an hour, or until the potato is done. See, mom did have some good things. I will tell you that her first goal was to cook and use as few pots as possible. Her pork chops cooked in the electric skillet and then to make Spanish rice on top of that was one pot of goodness. Now for the part that is more funny than it should have been. I forgot the meal of pimento cheese sandwiches she served to my sister-in-laws on the visit to Kansas. Barb said that the look on their faces was priceless when Mom said, "Who doesn't like pimento cheese?" I guess they didn't.
My mother once was in the store and she saw a brick of some mystery meat they called chili, took it home and added beans and tomatoes and served it to the family. My father added a pile of crackers, a cup of catsup and ate it without comment. At least he didn't utter his favorite line, "Looks like the dog got sick." It may not have tasted that way but it did look like chili. My dad used catsup in a quantity way above the national average. If that didn't kill the off taste of some of the concoctions, he would add Tabasco sauce to the catsup. I didn't eat breakfast with dad often because he would add catsup and tabasco sauce to his eggs. Just the sight of that would gag a maggot.
Mother thought she was the pie baker of record. For years she would make two pies that none of us liked. Her Sour Cream and raisin pie had a funny texture and ended with the slightly off and sharp taste of sour cream. He other pie was mince meat. It tasted like someone had started out to make a fruit cake and it turned into a pie. Texture aside, the taste was "off putting." I will say that Mom made some great pies but it took an intervention to get her to understand that Mrs. Smith or Marie Callender was our pie maker from then on.
At least once a month or so, Mom would make a meat salad that would turn into yummy sandwiches. A big old bowl of it would turn up in the fridge (Yes, I still call it an ice box) and we would gobble it down on many loaves of Wonder Bread. One time I pulled one of those, "I'm sick" days and stayed home from school. Mom brought home two beef hearts and a tongue and put them in the pressure cooker. I then watched her grind them up into a bowl. I guess if you add enough onion, celery and mayonnaise you could eat paper sacks. That ended the mystery meat caper once I let the cat out of the bag as to what was in it. I am not sure who first uttered the line, "tongue -Gross."
When I was a kid, the Minneha Baptist Church was building an addition on the side of the building. On Friday nights, those good Baptist men would show up for an evening of brick laying and a home cooked meal made by one of the women. Mom thought her chili was just the ticket but this time she tried to make it from scratch. I don't know what she used for the chili, but it was so hot that it would tarnish stainless steel spoons. She tried to dilute it by adding more beans and tomatoes but it was the talk of the church. Hell had no heat compared to Mom's Chili. Several years later, when Mom's eyesight started failing, she made chili for one of the family soup contests and used cinnamon instead of chili. My niece that was staying with her didn't say anything but made sure that everyone tried Mom's tasty chili. I am not sure what it tasted like but it was "tasty."
One of Mom's tricks was to buy a nice roast and put it in the oven with potatoes and onions and go off to church. I guess if you had set the oven at 250, you could be gone for over two hours and return to something edible. Often as not, it was a tough slightly smoky tasting chunk of meat that a bottle of catsup just might cover. That was the one meal that there would be enough left overs to make a stew out of.
That reminds me of waffles. I hate waffles to this day as it was one of the Sunday night meals Mom would make over and over until I just can't abide the taste or texture of a waffle. Perhaps as a morning meal once or twice a year but not every Sunday night.
The funniest story of all of them is the Arkansas Hash served to us at the end of a trip to Arkansas. We took all six of us, my Aunt and uncle and their three kids and Grandma on a trip to Arkansas. There was only a cabin built in the side of the hill there and the women were forced to cook on a wood stove. A wood stove in that tiny cabin made hot dogs on a stick the meal of choice at the end of a day spent swimming in the Buffalo River. I got the story years later but it seems that at the end of the vacation, there were several cans of staples left over and the women just threw them together in one big pot and called it Arkansas Hash. Several time over the years I heard people asking for Mom to repeat that wonderful meal. They would beg her to give them the recipe. She finally told me that she could no more replicate that meal than she could fly. I think it was just a happy accident.
I hope that you don't think that I hated my Mother's cooking. I know that she did her best. That was the generation that the men didn't cook unless it was to grill something outside. I often said that my father would have not known where the kitchen was except that he had to pass through it to visit the bathroom. They are both gone and I make sure that I have catsup and tabasco sauce to cover up when I make a mistake.