Into the Kitchen

Kay found a suggestion for genealogical remembrances [week #6 Genealogy Blogging Prompt] – writing about foods and food-related events of your family. Kay’s Into the Kitchen post is evidence of her good (though sometimes slanted) memory, insight and creativity. I thought the subject interesting enough to approach it from my also slanted memory, insight and slightly less creative approach.

Having been raised in a time when fewer convenience foods were available, my mother had to practice the full cooking scenario and she did it very well. On the other hand, mother was always open to the newest tools, gadgets and time-saving devices – including canned goods – and added them to her repertoire as early as possible.

Somewhere around 1949-50, Mother bought a pottery pitcher (gray with blue stripes across it) and she started making a mixture of orange juice and lemonade that she kept available during the hot summers. It was clearly a favorite for Mickey and me.

My favorite cookie has always been chocolate chip. When I was about nine, I decided to make a batch and I followed the directions on the package with diligence. With great anticipation I took a bite of the still warm cookie and was so disappointed – they weren’t at all like I expected. I called Mother at work and started to cry as I told her of my failure at cookie making. She tried to calm me down and asked me to tell her in detail the process I had followed. I got the recipe and started reading off what I’d done. When I got to the part about putting in the butter, Mother said, “That’s what happened. Donna Marie, I’m sure your cookies are very good; it’s just that I use shortening instead of butter and that would make a difference in the taste. Next time, use shortening and your cookies will be just fine.” She was right and from then on they always were.

One of my favorite foods mother made was one I never managed to reproduce – salmon croquets or patties. I found a recipe for them not long after I married but they weren’t anything like mother’s; hers were firm and not falling apart flaky, slightly crunchy on the outside and delicious. I remember several times having one or two of those left after dinner and picking them up and taking them with me as I walked out the door. They were great! After several disappointing attempts at making them, I asked her how she fixed them and she told me she started with a roux. Well, I had no idea what a roux was. She told me it’s a little like cream gravy and is also sometimes referred to as a white sauce. So, I tried that, but it merely thinned out the salmon so that it held together even less. The best I could ever do was to use crackers both mixed with the salmon and then as a coating as well, but it never was the same.

Daddy’s favorite food was Porterhouse or T-bone steak. Mother rarely bought it, but if Daddy went to the store, he was likely to come back with that. Another favorite food for Daddy was crackers and milk. Sometimes at night he would seem to get a hunger attack and he would go to the kitchen, get a glass and crumble crackers in it and pour milk over it. I don’t like soggy foods of any kind so this practice always amazed me. I asked him about it one time and he said when he was a boy they sometimes didn’t have sufficient food and that was something that would be available; apparently he learned to enjoy it.

Mother’s favorite was pork chop – she always said she loved to gnaw on the bone after she  finished with the meat. By the way, Mother washed all meat before she cooked it. I don’t mean just running water over it to get the blood off the surface; I mean rubbing it with the running water and even squeezing the meat to wash away as much of the blood from the inside as possible.

I don’t remember ever even hearing about a grill until long after I married, so mother and daddy both cooked pan fried meats. After the meat was clean, Mother would dredge it in flour, salt and pepper and put in the waiting hot oil.

I also don’t recall having what people referred to as ‘Sunday dinners.’ We got our first TV, probably around 1948 or 1949 and from then on we generally ate in the living room, plates in our hands, while we watched television; in fact, I have no recollection of eating at a table though I assume prior to TV that we did. When I married into a family with a mother who was an old-fashioned cook who truly enjoyed cooking and practiced it as a skill, including fixing three meals a day served on a table with the whole family gathered to eat it, I was ill-prepared, to say the least. Although I enjoyed eating in front of the TV, I managed to compromise with meals on the table for dinner the majority of the time during my marriage. Now that I’m single, I’ve returned to eating in the living room while watching TV.

Daddy had been a cook in the Merchant Marines and one of the things he cooked was something he called Sphaghetti Red – I didn’t have a recipe but it was something like macaroni mixed with browned hamburger meat, tomato sauce and seasonings. I always liked it and it was something I made with some frequency.

When I was in high school, if I got in trouble for something, Daddy had two possible punishments. One was to make me cook cornbread. I don’t know what the connection was to punishment and, surprisingly enough, being forced to make it as a punishment didn’t stop me from making it later when it was a proper complement to a meal. The other was to go to the kitchen and take out all the dishes from the cabinet and make me wash them again.

One of the things Mother made that I continued to make, at least in a similar manner, was meatloaf. Mother used a half and half mixture of hamburger meat and sausage, egg, onion, tomato sauce, salt and pepper and bread crumbs. I don’t always use the sausage but it’s good both ways. The real key to the meat loaf, in my opinion, is to generously spread catsup over the top of it before you put it in the oven.  One of my favorite vegetable complements that mother made was what she called Scalloped Potatoes. When I began searching for a recipe for those potatoes, I discovered that’s not actually what she fixed. Scalloped potatos basically only have a white sauce poured over the layer of potatos before baking; what Mother made was Potatos au Gratin – meaning it also has cheese. I really like the flavor of the Potatos au Gratin with meat loaf so that was the typical starch I made to go with it. These are really easy to make: peal and slice a layer of potatos into a casserole dish, sprinkle flour, salt, pepper and cheese over the layer of potatos and then dot with butter; continue with another couple of layers of potatos, flour, salt, pepper, cheese and butter. Pour milk over it until you can see the milk between the layers. Cover the casserole and bake for about an hour at 350°, then remove the cover and bake another 15 minutes. To complete this meal, I also usually made green beans and a regular baking powder biscuit.

When we lived in Blair, Oklahoma (Kay was about one), I made my first German Chocolate Cake. That’s an indelible memory for me – when I put the first bite of that cake in my mouth, I made a high-pitched, closed-mouth singing noise of joy. I love a homemade German Chocolate Cake and would still make the same song-like noise to this day [by the way, a box mix cake isn’t even in the same world as the original homemade variety].

The golden brown crunchy biscuits Kay mentioned in her blog was a recipe I found in an older Betty Crocker cookbook than the one I got as a wedding gift in 1959. We were living in married student quonset huts in Shawnee, Oklahoma at the time; our neighbors were named Zonna and Earl and the cookbook belonged to Zonna. She told me about the biscuits and I made them, loved them and continued to make them from that time forward.

In the ’60s, when I was working at OSU, I didn’t have enough work to keep me busy at my first floor (first office you came to) desk job and my boss wanted me to look busy, so one of the things I did was type recipes from magazines (on an old Selectric typewriter). I clipped the pictures from the magazines and glued them onto the pages and put them in a notebook. Some of these recipes I made only one time but still remember how excellent they were. For example, Sauerbraten that called for marinating several days in  a mixture that included red wine (unavailable at that time in Oklahoma) and ginger cookies [excellent recipe], a red cabbage dish that had green grapes cooked in it, and a sautéed carrot recipe that was delicious.

Also when I was working at OSU, we had a Christmas party and someone brought a Date Nute Candy that, when I put it in my mouth, I was overwhelmed with sensations of taste and smell that were clearly out of my memory. I loved the candy and asked for the recipe. When I made it, I realized why I’d had those strong sensations of taste and smell memories: it was out of my childhood and was something my mother used to make so long before that I’d forgotten all but that sense of taste/smell. The sensation of smell was that this candy was poured hot onto a wet cotton dish towel, wrapped up into a roll and put in the icebox to cool before slicing. As it cooled, the smell of the candy mixed with the smell of the dish towel.

In the ’70s, I went through a healthy cooking phase. Some examples of how that manifested itself would be: because margarine wasn’t natural it was considered to be less healthy than real butter, though the saturated fat content of butter had its own  problems. I solved that dilemma by buying real butter and allowing it to soften to room temperature. Then I added an equal portion of a healthier oil, such as Safflower, plus lecithin (the lecithin halted the solidification problem with the real butter and allowed it to stay spreadable at refrigerator temperatures). I also made my own mayonnaise. Additionally, I made a lot of healthier (tongue-in-cheek) desserts, such as the calorie and fat dense Carrot Cake that had carrots, pineapple, nuts and raisins in it and Cream Cheese Frosting on top, the Lazy Daisy cake made from oatmeal [a recipe my Mother used to make], and Grandma Brown’s Fresh Apple Cake, to name a few.

As to food-related events, the most important of those was probably the annual Thanksgiving weekend retreat the youth at Grey Stone Baptist Church took. I was a traditional cook and made everything for Thanksgiving from scratch. I would get up around 4:00 a.m. and put on the turkey and make hot rolls. Next came pies – pumpkin and pecan. I made the crusts for both pies and the custard for the pumpkin, but Wayne was very proud of making the custard for the pecan pies (it was his favorite) and I was always pleased to let him. While I was making the crust, I always made an extra crust that I rolled very thin, spread it with soft butter, sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar and then rolled it up to be baked along with the pies. That was something Mother had made that I always enjoyed and so I made it everytime I made a pie and it’s a real treat. Then I would peel sweet potatos and chop them up in very small pieces and start them cooking [Kay always wanted small pieces because she wanted every potential part covered in the brown sugar/syrup/marshmallow gooey stuff]. While everything was cooking I would make dressing, green bean casserole, mandarin orange salad, cranberry sauce and homemade whipped cream. I was raised by Mother to time all my cooking so that every dish served was served cold if it was to be cold and hot if it was to be hot and I was always successful in that.

1975 Thanksgiving Retreat Volleyball Game

1975 Thanksgiving Retreat Volleyball Game

After Thanksgiving meal was concluded and cleaned up after, we got our stuff and went to the church for the drive up to the mountains with the youth group for a time of fun, games, fellowship and Bible study. Absolutely some of our best times were spent in the North Carolina mountains on Thanksgiving weekend.

One of those recipes we enjoyed in the 1970’s that would likely be good today for Kay with the occasional houseful of teenagers would be the Peanut-Buttered Popcorn.