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Mother’s Day Cooking Q&A

6 months ago

With Mother’s Day approaching, I’ve been thinking about my own cooking heritage. Even though I’ve learned a lot about cooking as an adult, and have made many things my foremothers never would have considered, all my cooking underpinnings come from them. Here are some questions to jump off with—answer them or follow your own path, but tell us about your cooking motherage.

Did you learn to cook from a mother figure? Mom? Grandmother(s)? Aunties? Godmother/play-mother/mother-like-friend? Or was your cooking “mother” a man?

What dishes were their specialties?

Which of their dishes do you still make?

Which recipes do you wish you still had?

Are there any special cooking tools they favored?

Did you acquire copies of their special tools, or inherit them?

Do you subconsciously copy their kitchen-style, menu-style, cooking-style?

Which of their dishes have you improved upon?

Which of their dishes have you reinvented?

Which dish you learned to make elsewhere reminds you most of your cooking-mother, and why?

Comments (11)

  • naturegirl_2007 5B SW Michigan
    6 months ago

    My mom was busy with many things other than cooking so we had quite basic food. She showed me how to safely use the stove, mixer, etc. and then let me bake on my own from a very young age. I would read recipes and ask about anything I was unsure of and then I was left alone to do my baking. I know that I made an angel food cake (from a mix) and buttercream frosting while she was gone. I was still attending grade maybe 10 or 11 years old. I hide it in my bedroom closet and brought it out the next day for my parents' anniversary. They were so surprised.

    We canned tomatoes, pickles, and fruits together. As an adult I found out that she was using methods used by her mother. Some did not meet updated safety guidelines. It is probably a good thing that we cooked with those products and did not eat them straight from the jars.

    I purchased a nut chopper like hers that I use regularly all these years later. I have some small covered storage containers from her, too. She showed by example that food was not to be wasted, so the storage containers from her are appropriate. She also was quick to improvise with foods we had from the garden or grocery sales. That is likely why I seldom follow non-baking recipes closely, if at all. I also learned that soup was a great way to use up a variety of foods. Most soup I make is very good, but I can not replicate it exactly since it is made from a bit of this and a bit of that I stored up in the freezer until soup making time.

    There were a few recipes from my childhood that I used to make as an adult. Your questions makes me wonder why I stopped. Maybe I'll try them again soon. Almond rolls, icebox cookies, sour milk cake (my grandma's depression or WWII era recipe), pig in the blankets, and peanut butter cookies might show up here soon.

    plllog thanked naturegirl_2007 5B SW Michigan
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  • Islay Corbel
    6 months ago

    My Mum was a brilliant cook. She was very influenced by the writer Elizabeth David who was, I suppose, our equivalent of your Julia Child.

    Also, when I went to school at 4, I met my best friend whose father was an Italian restaurateur. So what made us different from other children in our class was they we both had foreign Dads and we ate funny food compared to the other kids LOL

    Also, we travelled a lot and so ate our way around the place. So I was brought up eating such a fantastic variety of foods and all the family share this love of food and cooking.

    I've lived in France for 32 years now and although cheap, fast food is changing a lot in France - it's usually not great (see John's posts LOL) the traditional food of this country is still going strong.

    I love the fact that recipe and ingredients are available to us form all over so we can taste the world!

    Are there any traditional dishes from my childhood? of course but the things I relish that really remind me of my Mum is something like a beautiful game pie or wonderful-smelling terrines.

    As for tools, she had a Kenwood mixer so when I bought my own, it had to be Kenwood. I think of her every time I use it.

    plllog thanked Islay Corbel
  • lisaam
    6 months ago

    My mother was a solid cook (within the parameters of feeding 8 children) and did some baking although i don’t think she has ever made a pie. She did make cream puffs and would make German chocolate cake from the Swans Down flour box for my birthday—- maybe the only scratch cake that got made in our house.

    She was a confident gravy maker so I was surprised when I learned that some people have gravy phobia.

    Our favored tool is probably the smoothest and most worn wooden spoon. Whenever I am picking through crab meat I see her hands doing the same. I have never made the Pa Dutch sand tart recipe that she got from her mom but i guess some day i will need to.

    plllog thanked lisaam
  • CA Kate z9
    6 months ago
    last modified: 6 months ago

    My Mother was a working Mom and so didn't have much time to prepare anything but basic meals. But... she was a good cook and so we ate well. Because she worked, I taught myself how to cook at a pretty young age. When you grow up with good food you want to continue eating good food.

    One thing: she disliked canned vegetables and always bought frozen Bird'sEye. Fresh vegetables are more available now, but I still buy frozen when needed.

    One of the dishes she would very rarely make was German-style potato dumplings. She made them like a sausage, cut them to size and then fry them in bacon grease. I wish I had learned how to make them.

    When she died I took all of her cooking pots and still have 2 pots and one fry pan. I think of her everytime I use them.

    plllog thanked CA Kate z9
  • Sherry
    6 months ago

    My maternal grandmother and my Dad. My mother could burn water. I figured out how to make my grandmothers Oyster Dressing after she died. She did not have recipes for anything. My Dad started cooking when I was 9 or 10. I kinda took over when I was 11, so we didn't have to eat so late, because he didn't get off work until 5PM. By 12 I cooked supper every night. Basic stuff. Fried meat, pot roast, meat loaf and two to three vegetables.

    plllog thanked Sherry
  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    6 months ago

    Both my parents grew up and lived overseas where every European or western household had a whole gang of servants that attended to ALL domestic chores. So it wasn't until they moved to the US and my mom was an adult with two small children that she learned to cook anything! She was mostly self taught but did develop a friendship with an older woman (my future godmother) who mentored her as needed.

    Even after such a late start, she turned out to be a very capable cook. She was never interested much in baking - she let us kids handle that most of the time - but she could put together wonderful meals, including a number of complicated foreign dishes.

    She wasn't a real teacher in the kitchen so I learned most of my cooking skills by osmosis, watching what she did, how she did it and helping when I could. By the time I was in high school, it was just me left at home and I started to take over a lot of the least on weekends. Most of her dishes I remember and still make to this day had no written recipe - meatloaf, roasts and Yorkshire pudding, Lancashire hotpot, beef Stroganoff, creamed potatoes, a couple of casserole dishes, etc. I tend to cook that way myself. I rarely rely on recipes unless baking and just ad lib as to how I want the dish to look and taste.

    The only tools or utensils of hers I still have and use regularly is her cast iron skillet.

    plllog thanked gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
  • plllog
    Original Author
    6 months ago
    last modified: 6 months ago

    My grandmothers were both from Europe, both worked, and both were decent cooks though not inspired. My mother learned to cook American things like fried chicken from a housekeeper, but really learned to cook over the telephone when my grandmother needed her to start the dinner while she was stuck at work. My father helped his mother in the kitchen as a kid, so, from memory, he gave us directions for her gefilte fish, which was her star dish. She brought it for major feasts at any of her kids' houses, on a translucent porcelain plate she'd always had (and which was probably worth a fortune as an antique), where it was welcome and fought over. I don't know what my maternal grandmother made--the food story we heard was that her self-indulgent rare treat was a can of fine caviar. She'd sit on the sofa and eat it with a spoon right out of the can. She grew up in range of the Baltic sea, where the caviar was plentiful. Her sister is the one who taught my mother to dress cooked spinach with sour cream and chopped eggs (YUM!) and to make blintzes (YUMYUM!).

    I'm not sure which of them taught my mother to make pirozhki, but I do remember that she had to adapt them to her kitchen and went through a number of fails. My mother specifically taught me to make blintzes, which requires a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup and a hand cranked egg-beater. There's a whole routine of adding bits of milk and flour and cranking until it "goes like this" when you lift the egg beater. I've since had to learn to make fresh hoop cheese for them, but I can make the blintzes right. Rotary beaters were out of style when I was a young adult, so when I first saw one, I leapt to buy it. It was poor quality, but the batter still "went like this" and the blintzes got made (and back then, hoop cheese was still easy to buy). My mother's old egg beater finally died, which was a shame because it was really good. She was distressed to lose it, but by then they were back on the market, perhaps for nostalgia. I found a decent one and got each of us one, and the blintzes were saved!

    Many of my mother's signature dishes for entertaining came from friends. I have the recipes and have made everything from "green mold" to an elaborate arroz con pollo. From the time I was in double digit age, I helped with the making of the bourekes and make them myself now. Even with pandemic shortages, and having to fudge some ingredients, I still managed to make them for Thanksgiving last year.

  • Judi
    6 months ago

    I grew up in the Midwest in the 60s where food was fairly bland and boring. That didn't stop my mom from trying new things. She worked part time and still managed to serve a good meal every night. Her influence is still with me as I experiment and expand my culinary skills.

    plllog thanked Judi
  • Fun2BHere
    6 months ago

    Neither my mother nor her mother could cook more than the bare minimum to keep the family fed. My father's mother cooked high fat, high carb, heavy beef meals that didn't appeal to me, so I never bothered to learn anything from her. She made beautiful pies from scratch, but I don't like pie, so again, I wasn't interested.

    I only learned to cook a little bit in my middle age, mostly from watching Food Channel shows back when they were instructional rather than competition based. I'm still not a great cook like many of you here, but I can follow a recipe with good results.

    plllog thanked Fun2BHere
  • bbstx
    6 months ago
    last modified: 6 months ago

    My mother was an awful cook. She fried almost everything, yet she was slender as were my sister and I. She had a 5-6 dish rotation: smothered steak (fried round steak cooked in brown gravy until tender-ish); fried pork chops; fried chicken; fried frozen shrimp on Friday nights (we are Protestant but she served fish on Friday); over-cooked, shoe-leather tough roast on Sunday; and at some point every couple of weeks, the worst spaghetti you’ve ever tasted. There was no such thing as a casserole. Green salads were rare to non-existent.

    I never could understand the penchant people had for mac and cheese when I was growing up. Here is Mother’s recipe: Cook elbow macaroni until it is flabby. Drain and put in a rectangular baking dish. Beat 2 eggs. Add milk. Pour over macaroni. Top with a few slices of very mild cheddar cheese. Bake until the macaroni is hard again.

    We had an abundance of vegetables because we had a huge garden (couple of acres) that we shared with the people who worked for Daddy. Mother did not can food, but she froze a lot of vegetables. I ate a lot of fresh tomatoes growing up. We had them for every meal, including breakfast, when they were in season. I would sneak into the garden, find a good one and eat it like an apple! Then there was fried okra; fried field corn (corn cut off the cob and cooked in a skillet with butter or bacon drippings); pole beans; yellow squash; cucumbers, butter beans (harvested when they were tiny) and crowder peas.

    For such a lousy cook, Mother had very high standards. Vegetables had to be small and tender. Tomatoes had to be vine-ripened unless they were being used for fried green tomatoes, in which case they had to be truly green and hard. Fruit had to be unblemished.

    We had no processed foods ever. I didn’t know what American cheese was until I was 23. It wasn’t that Mother was purposefully a healthy eater. She just didn’t like the taste processed foods.

    Mother never baked a cake from scratch, except a coconut cake at Christmas. The coconut had to be fresh (as in ”first you buy a coconut…”) and finely grated by her own hand. Her pie crusts were always from scratch and always flaky and tender. She had 2 pies she made, lemon meringue and chocolate. Biscuits and cornbread were made without a recipe and were always perfect.

    Mother’s best dishes were her potato salad and her cornbread dressing. I can’t make either one to save my soul. My sister comes really close on the cornbread dressing.

    Mother was over 90 when she died. She was living by herself in her own home, doing her own housework and cooking her own meals (still nothing processed). She did the light portions of her own yardwork but hired a really good-looking, very buff young man to do the heavy lifting and mowing. We teased her that she found things that needed doing just to get him to come to the house!

    I suppose my ”rebellion” is not cooking like Mother did. But I wouldn’t mind having her yard man mow my grass. 😉

    ETA: My sister just sent me these pictures of Mom. She may have been a lousy cook, but she went some interesting places!

    plllog thanked bbstx