I sent a message to my sisters and my big little brother recently, asking them which of the meals our mother cooked was their favorite.
Now, I didn’t expect it to be an easy question to answer. Mom was a wonderful cook. She had the knack for making a feast from a very little for a houseful. And as kids, we took it pretty much for granted. At least, I did.
Some of my earliest memories are of waking up to the aroma of frying bacon and pancakes cooking on the griddle. I would stumble down the stairs, rubbing the sleep from my eyes and go through the dining room to the kitchen. I could see Mom through the slight haze as she flipped the steaming pancakes; one, two, three.
We liked them skinny and brown; covered with butter and accompanied by bacon or sausage or sometimes, fried eggs. At our house, maple syrup on a pancake was dessert, eaten last. And now and then, usually after a Sunday dinner of chicken and biscuits, we would be treated to leftover chicken gravy on our pancakes the next morning.
And so, I asked each one for their opinion.
The list wasn’t long, but it certainly was tantalizing: beef pot roast with potatoes, carrots and onions topped the list. Chicken and biscuits, with that wonderful gravy; “boiled dinner” of ham, cooked with potatoes, cabbage, rutabaga (we called them turnips), carrots and sometimes onion was on the list. All was accompanied, of course, by either a lettuce or cabbage salad.
Youngest sis listed all of the above and finished with apple pie. Oh my, Mom’s apple pie. Or cherry. Or pumpkin. Or in the late summer, my favorite, blackberry. Now and then dessert was “Aunt Hazel’s Chocolate Cake.” To this day, I have never tasted a chocolate cake that can begin to hold a candle to it.
Big little brother said he always liked her potato soup with dumplings. I think we all did.
If by chance there were any leftovers after these meals, they tasted even better the next day.
Somehow our mother made it look so easy. And I took it all so much for granted. It was what our Mom did, after all.
On more Sundays than not, aunts and uncles and cousins would come driving up the road. Maybe Mom knew they were coming. Maybe she didn‘t. It truly didn’t matter. All of us, especially Mom, were tickled silly to see them.
We ’young-uns’ visited, giggled and listened, some of the time, while the grown-ups told stories about when they were kids. Seeing the incredulous looks on our faces, they would laugh and assure us that it really wasn’t so long ago. Just wait, they said. You kids will be grown ups, too, one of these days. On those long-ago Sundays, such a thing was beyond our imaginations.
I have never come close to being the cook our mother was. Each one of my sisters, as well as our big little brother, are all much better at it than I. The best I can do is make an Aunt Hazel chocolate cake now and then.
But we get together once in a while and take a stab at it, as folks used to say. And chicken n’ biscuits is still my favorite, whether we have pancakes the next morning or not.
Of course, we realize now that as truly delicious as those long ago meals were, the flavor, the spice and the true sweetening was the company, the laughter, the story telling and the love that is only found when we are surrounded by family. And it still is.
Oh yes! Memories are made of this.