"Snippet" -- a small piece or brief extract
Mama often accuses me of having more food memories than anything else. She’s not altogether wrong perhaps. There are lots of reasons for that:
1. I LOVE food, especially good food. :-D
2. Mama was an EXCELLENT cook!
3. We gardened.
4. Daddy was a meatcutter.
5. Mama couponed.
All of that together = lots of amazing food memories.
I talked about her chicken and pastry in the birthday tribute, but no one can do chicken and pastry like Mama, and while my husband has mastered the art of creating gluten-free pastry now, nothing holds a candle to Mama's. . . .
Stew beef. Yes, I know maybe you call it beef stew, but at our house it was stew beef. Oh, my! So good. . . Tender beef chunks, onions and potatoes. . . . all in a beefy, oniony broth, served over fluffy white rice, usually with green beans (often from our garden . . .). I've tried and tried, but I've never made stew beef that tasted as good as Mama's.
Potato salad! This one I've mastered, and it is still a family staple. With ham at Easter, with fried chicken , with pork chops, . . .or just by itself . . .every potluck dinner ("dinner on the grounds") growing up. Warm or cold, didn't matter. Often I would eat a bowl of potato salad for breakfast straight out of the fridge.
OK, so a little note about breakfast in our house: while Mama was an excellent cook, she didn't like to get up early, so breakfast was cereal, or Pop-Tarts, or whatever was in the fridge (Keeping in mind that I grew up pre-microwave days . . .which meant if it came out the fridge, you ate it cold.) Spaghetti sauce on bread? check Cold meatloaf sandwich? Yep. Cold vegetable beef soup? One of my faves. . . Mama cooked great breakfasts -- but we rarely ate them for breakfast ;-)
So many other foods that Mama cooked or created or put together were special. To this day, one of my very favorite meals is a pork chop (Mama's were always fried; we usually choose to grill or bake ours now.) Rice with speckled butter beans on top, and a fresh garden-ripened tomato sprinkled liberally with salt and pepper. . .so so good!!!!
I guess a food section wouldn't be complete without talking about fish. We live near the beach, and my family loves fishing. I have cousins who would often go spot-fishing, and bring us a "mess 'o spots". Dredged in cornmeal and fried to perfection, served with fish rice (white rice thrown into the last bit of the "drippins'" from the fried fish), and slaw (finely chopped cabbage, salt/pepper, Miracle Whip [Don't fight me on this. . . ], and a bit of sugar). One of Mama's favorites and her mama's before her. Also, one of my favorites!
I keep thinking of more and more, but I have to talk about carrot cake. This was another recipe handed down from a church lady or a family member. The best carrot cake ever! Cream cheese icing full of pecans. I'm the carrot cake baker usually now (or my hubby). It's a family staple. In fact, I think my nephew is requesting it for his birthday. It has been present at birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, pot lucks . . . .omnipresent. . . well, almost. . . . Mama would always argue a carrot cake and a glass of milk was a complete and balanced meal. (Eggs, nuts, and cream cheese for protein, flour for grains, carrots for veggies, cream cheese for dairy, and oil for fat content (and butter in the frosting). Milk rounded out for some extra dairy. . . . I don't know about balanced, but I do know it is DELICIOUS! I make a gluten free version now -- it's not as good, but still yummy!
Macaroni salad, slaw, deviled eggs, ham-rice, meatloaf, and so much more . . such good food. I could talk about this all day. . . .of course, we also ate our share of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (and I always liked Daddy's better, because he put more jelly ;-), Treet meat, vienna sausages, and Manwich from the can, along with Hamburger Helper. Our spaghetti sauce came from a jar and the only regular spices she used were salt and pepper. Chili con carne was as cultural as we got -- it was Southern, fried, and fresh from the garden -- or from a can. But whatever she fed us tasted amazing (except for Turnips, but that wasn't her fault. I'm still not a fan!)
Here are some of my favorite food memories with Mama:
~~~Pineapple Upside Down Cake~~~
Probably my earliest food memory is when I was three years old, living in Grandmama’s old homeplace. We were between houses. The place we were renting when I and my brother were born was not going to still be available. Money was tight, places were expensive, so, for a season we were in the old homeplace. There was no bathroom -- a chamber pot and an outhouse served the purpose. I don’t remember much else from that time, except the Pineapple upside down cake that we made there. We used a cast iron skillet -- layering slices of pineapple across the bottom, filling in all the holes with cherries, butter, and brown sugar. Then we topped that off with cake batter. After baking it off and turning it out, it was beautiful and delicious! And to this day, it's one of my favorite cakes!
Mama has always been an excellent cook. I remember when we were living in a cousin’s house in New Hope, Mama decided to try her hand at making potato chips. I was excited to help. We sliced the potatoes as thin as possible, fried them up in oil, and set them out to dry. Some of them were green, some of them were limp, but a few were crispy and delicious. Mama decided potato chips were not her forte and I don’t remember ever making them again, but what a fun memory!
These have been part of our family repertoire ALMOST as long as I can remember. The recipe came from one of our church ladies. I think they were called preacher cookies because they were often made for potlucks or when the preacher came calling. Most people I know now call these “No Bake Cookies” and there are tons of different versions of them. Ours used peanut butter, butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, and oatmeal. They were delightful little morsels that we dropped by the spoonful onto aluminum foil to set. Sometimes the weather was not really conducive to candy setting, so they stayed pliable and squishy and we got to eat most of them as they were “not fittin’”. We loved the little dribbles that didn’t make it into the gooey delicious piles because those were little jewels that we got to nibble. And we ALWAYS hoped there were a few left over when we took them to potluck (but often we were disappointed.) They are always a big hit wherever we go, and making them with Mama is one of my favorite childhood memories.
This recipe has been lost through time and it has been YEARS since Mama and I made Divinity together, but it remains one of my favorite food memories. It was a tedious process and one that had to be “just right”. We boiled a mixture of sugar, Karo syrup, and water until it formed a ball in a glass of water. That was one of my jobs -- to watch for the ball to form so we knew it was ready. Mama would beat the egg whites, mix them together with just the right timing and consistency and spoon them out (after adding a touch of vanilla) onto aluminum foil. My other job was to top each confection with a perfect pecan half. We spent many of my early Christmases making divinity for parties and to share with family. One thing is for sure, the candy was divine -- and so is the memory!
Now that I’m grown and supposed to be eating gluten-free, clean and healthy, I rarely get this treat anymore, but it’s one of my all-time favorites. A box of vanilla wafers, a can of sweetened condensed milk join with golden and dark raisins and lots of chopped pecans to form almost-cement perfection after lots and LOTS and LOTS of pressing, pressing, and more pressing. (That, along with shelling the pecans was part of my job. . . ) It was topped with half-cherry flowers and green cherries cut into quarters for leaves. It was then CAREFULLY cut into tiny squares (not an easy task due to its concrete construction . . ) and was the perfect blend of sweet and nutty.
There were also these yummy cookies Mama and I made. I have the recipe for them, but I haven't tried making them. . . .maybe that will be another blog post later.
And, for many years, our house was the house that hosted all the church parties -- baby showers, New Year's Eve parties, and more. Those always brought little finger ham sandwiches, Town House crackers with Cheez Whiz, and amazing pineapple delight -- marshmallows, crushed pineapple and whipped topping -- I always loved parties and the food that came with them.
Mama laughs and jibes me all the time about my food memories, but she is an excellent cook, and some of my favorite times with Mama were the ones we spent in the kitchen -- cooking up excellencies just like these. I hope that some of her cooking excellence has rubbed off through the years.
I've been a teacher of K-3 students for over 20 years; I'm also a writer of poems, short stories, devotionals and picture books. I'm wife to an amazing husband and mom to Sparkles the kitty. I love reading, writing, singing and listening to music. I enjoy nature, Bible study and spending time with friends and family!