My mother is a great cook. When I was growing up, our house always smelled delicious, like roast beef or apple pie or chocolate cake.
My mother is one of those people who can follow a recipe to the letter and turn out gourmet dishes that look even better than the pictures in the cookbook, and she's also one of those people who can improve on almost any recipe she tries.
She loves poring over cookbooks or food magazines for hours before finally deciding on which recipe to try. The first time she makes something new she'll follow the instructions to the letter, even if it means that in the middle of preparation she has to run to the store (or send me) to find some obscure spice or condiment. If the new dish is good, especially if the family likes it, you can bet your bippy that the next time she makes it, it'll be even better, because Mama will add some touch of her own that improves it.
Mama knows so much about spices and herbs and how they work together. She knows which herbs complement pork as opposed to beef; which fruits are enhanced by cinnamon or mace; and which flavors are brought out by lemon juice or nutmeg. She can taste a salad dressing and tell you every herb that's in it as well as what would make it better, and she's invariably right.
Mama also knows the difference between stirring and blending, neither of which is the same as folding. She knows special little tricks for kitchen miracles like making pie crust that's extra flaky and whipping cream so it forms stiff peaks.
Mama also knows how to make all those old fashioned country-cookin' feel-good foods like rhubarb pie, goulash and peach cobbler. She even makes some terrific things most people have never even heard of, like grape pie. Every year, around September, we start keeping an eye out for concord grapes. They're expensive and the stores don't get many. So if anyone in the family finds some, they snap them up quickly and bring them to Mom. And when the grape pie is ready, we call everyone and have a family feast.
When I was growing up I remember Mama would often try some new dish and invariably Daddy would love it. When a few weeks went by and she didn't fix it again, he'd ask for it, and her answer would always be the same. "Why should I make that again when there are so many new things to try?"
Everyone in the family has one favorite thing that "Grandma" makes. And when that person visits, my mother knows just what to fix. For my nephew Lee, it's pumpkin pie. For his sister Tina, it's homemade applesauce. For my brother Roy, it's what we all call "Rag-bag Pudding "- an old fashioned pudding steamed in cheesecloth, like the famous "figgy pudding" in the song "We Wish You A Merry Christmas." Only better.
These days Mama doesn't cook as much as she used to, but she still loves it and can while away a whole afternoon with the latest issue of "Taste of Home" or "Better Homes and Gardens." And I love it when she does, because that's when we get a phone call that goes something like this, "Could you come over for dinner? I've got something new I want you to try."
Or, "This new recipe made too much. Can you come and help me eat it up?"
Or my favorite, "I tried a new chocolate recipe and ..."
I never hear the end of that one because I'm already out my door and on the way to hers.