A few years back, I came across an Internet contest called A Mother’s Day Revenge. People were supposed to send in details of the worst food their mother ever made for them. The winner would receive some small recompense by being treated to a four-course meal from a sympathetic catering company.
I knew I had it in the bag.
Mom’s big mistake was a tuna fish casserole made with canned tuna, rice, walnuts, green beans, peas, celery and lima beans all held together with lime gelatin.
The story of this horror has become legendary with friends because of the odd combination of flavors. But what people don’t realize is that it takes something truly disturbing, even traumatic, like that to make you appreciate all the great flavors that world has to offer. And many of those have come from my mother.
So, in honor of Mother’s Day, I have come to say a few choice words about my mom and, hopefully, to inspire all of you home cooks out there. You never know when a dish of yours will capture the fancy of any other writers out there.
It’s easy to remember the bad. It’s something else to be grateful for the thousands of other homemade meals that greeted me every evening as I was growing up.
There were countless hams, usually made with pineapple slices and brown sugar on the outside, that stretched into who knows how many more sandwiches for lunch. There were stews and soups, roasts and fried chicken, broiled steaks and, on one occasion, bear, which had been given to us by a hunter friend.
There were also three or four vegetables every day, almost all from the back-yard garden in the summer. Potatoes were something we didn’t grow but ate plenty of, especially mashed. There were also homemade egg noodles that dried out on the backs of breakfast room chairs before they were cut up and dropped into boiling water. Breads were always made by hand. And since Mom is a baker, there was always a dessert to wipe away the taste of anything I might not have enjoyed. (Click here for her Raspberry-Vanilla Cake recipe, which is a real treat.)
It was all made at home and served to us most every single day, whether Mom was in a mood to cook or not. Dining out was reserved for special occasions, when the budget allowed. We didn’t order take-out or pop a frozen pizza in the oven (one frozen pizza back in the 1970s was enough to convince you to eat something, anything, else).
That may seem odd for someone who grew up to write about restaurants, but it really was the foundation of eating everything made from scratch that helped form a standard by which to judge others.
It has also helped in these economically unstable times, because I find myself preparing my own meals much more often. I want my food to taste as good as the best meals my mom made. They don’t always measure up. I’ve had to toss a sauce with too much salt or doctor a recipe that just didn’t taste as good as it sounded on paper, but I know from Mom’s example that a handmade vinaigrette can be better than any bottled salad dressing. It’s simple and dependable. It’s also a perfect side to a pork chop with a little salt on it or a steak with succulent marrow at the center of that rib-eye.
Mom would have rounded out the meal with a warm vegetable or two plus a starch, probably rice, potatoes or those delectable egg noodles. But my diabetes has changed a few aspects of my diet, including the elimination of starches, so I’d likely finish off the plate with some squash or beans, not from my back yard but often from a farmers market because I know from her the value of fresh foods to work with.
Memories of the tuna-lime mold will always be with me, and I have used that, too. It’s the standard by which to compare odd-sounding recipes, two of which I discovered while visiting my folks recently.
Both, surprisingly, were for deviled egg variations. Again, my standard for deviled eggs comes from Mom, who made hers with touch of diced bread-and-butter pickles.
Thankfully, she never made either variation I discovered, one of which called for peanut butter mixed in with the egg yolks. If that doesn’t gag you, then this one will: The other recipe incorporated carrots and raisins. I showed them to Mom, and she turned up her nose at both.
So, thanks, Mom, for all the meals you made over the years. And thanks, too, for never making me deviled eggs with carrots, raisins, peanut butter or lime gelatin.