Mom never officially taught me to cook, not that I can remember, and yet if she was in the kitchen, I generally was, too.
I think the first thing I “made”, or at least helped make, was something she called shoo-fly pie. Now, poking around on the Internet has informed me there really is something called shoo-fly pie, a molasses-based pie from the Pennsylvania Dutch country that reads to me like pecan pie filling with crumb-cake crumbs instead of pecans.
This is not what my mom meant by shoo-fly pie.
She’d be making pie — typically apple pie in the summer, chunks of Gravenstein apples dotted with butter, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, another layer of apple chunks, and go on like that until the filling was at least two inches above the rim of the pie plate, maybe more, it always looked taller to me (of course, I was shorter then…), maybe lemon meringue, and in autumn and winter it was pumpkin pie and pecan pie and sometimes mincemeat pie with her family mincemeat recipe (yes, real meat mincemeat; sounds weird, tasted delish) — starting with homemade pie crust. Store-bought pie crust was anathema in our house, whether because she didn’t like the quality of it or it just wasn’t done to buy premade crust. Mostly the latter, I think.
Anyway, pie crust, the bottom crust rolled out and put in the pan and trimmed, ditto the top crust if she was making apple pie. And she’d give me the trimmings, and I’d very carefully roll them out with my very own pint-sized rolling pin to the same thickness as the crusts for the pies. Not round, though. I don’t recall if “round crust” just escaped my talents or if we liked our shoo-fly in more free-form shapes. Once rolled, the crust got put on a baking sheet, sprinkled with a mix of cinnamon and sugar, dotted with a little butter and baked about fifteen minutes, or however ling it took to become golden brown. Remove from oven, wait a few minutes until it cooled off enough not to burn fingers, then we’d break off pieces and nibble the flaky goodness until it was gone. Didn’t take long.
She was Southern enough to make pan-fried chicken in a cast-iron skillet, the same one she’d use to bake cornbread (cut in wedges, the wedges split in half like a layer cake and slathered with butter and sorghum syrup, or the whole skillet’s worth dried to make stuffing for the Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey). She made popovers, rich and buttery and perfect with jam or apple butter for breakfast on New Year’s Day (or whenever she felt like it, really), and if she splurged on a rib roast for Christmas dinner, she’d make Yorkshire pudding (popover batter made with drippings from the roast and baked in the roasting pan with the meat rested.
Not that everything was a success…or at least, it might have turned out the way she planned but it wasn’t to my taste. That German chocolate cake I mentioned a few posts back, for one. Her green beans, for another: big honkin’ green beans half an inch wide at least, ends trimmed and “strings” removed, throw ’em in the dutch oven with lots of water and some chopped bacon, then boil until limp. Ew.
Fried oysters. ***shudder***
Fried okra. ***gag***
Chicken and dumplings, though, that always worked out well even though she used a mix for the dumplings. And yes, so did I.
I always enjoyed reading cookbooks, and I think I discovered cooking magazines when I worked at the library, but Mom was always clipping recipes out of the local paper to augment her old cookbooks. I was never all that into baking pies or “standard” cakes (two or more layers plus frosting), but she found a recipe for a Lindy’s-style cheesecake in the paper and I made that my own, and pretty much took over cheesecake as a thing. Pretty sure I started making ratatouille while she was still alive, but it wasn’t until after she died, I think, that I got into making stews and similar things.
If there’s a problem with the way I cook, it’s having learned from someone who was never happy unless she’d made enough to serve twice as many people as expected, two servings apiece, plus leftover for a week. Leads to rather a lot of waste if you’re only feeding yourself — and you don’t have a freezer to speak of.
But I miss cooking. I miss it as its own thing to do for myself, and I miss being able to have friends over and feed them something wonderful. I also know I will never make any progress on improving the weight situation until I do more cooking and rely far less on junk food and canned stuff. So I’m working on that, slowly but surely, because like anything else, it takes time to replace a bad habit with a better one.
Mostly, though…I’m grateful Mom let me hang out in the kitchen with her. 😀