Mom in the Kitchen

Just Thinking…..

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Mom was a culinary genius. Like most geniuses, she had the occasional flop, but I remember so many of her ideas about food. Although I like everything today except turnips, that was not true when I was growing up.  I was a brat about eating, and truly did not appreciate my mom’s cooking.  Most of her cooking was the everyday meat and potatoes type, and it was delicious. But a few stories come to mind about meals that were different.

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One year, we visited my aunt and uncle in Denver, who announced that we were having pizza for supper. Pizza? Never heard of it. It was not an everyday word in our part of Iowa. So we were introduced to pizza, and Mom fell in love with it. She worked out all kinds of ways to make pizza…. far beyond the then-standard hamburger tomato sauce and cheese. Whatever was a left over could potentially find its way onto a pizza.

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Usually she made pizza crust when she made the weekly bread loaves. But then she discovered pizza mixes at the store…. were they Chef Boy R D? Anyway, it was a box of flour mix (just add water), a packet of tomato sauce and a little packet of parm cheese. She still made most of her pizza with bread dough, but I remember that she bought those mixes one year for my birthday, and my friends could all help make pizzas.

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Another food discovery for our family was spaghetti. We knew its cousin, macaroni, but were not aware of spaghetti. Macaroni showed up on our plates as mac ‘n cheese, or tuna noodle cassarole, or macaroni salad. We never called it pasta. But after our first experience of eating spaghetti somewhere, Mom perfected and then reinvented that dish. Spaghetti could come with hamburger, or sausage, or chicken, or…….

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Mom usually only used salt and pepper to season her cooking. She had some spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, which were usually put into sweet rolls. But my creative mom decided one time to surprise us by cooking chicken with some other spices. I could tell from the aroma that this was not a regular chicken. And when I tasted it, I must admit that I made a face….. and probably said yuck!

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She had put cinnamon with the chicken. It just was not a 1950s Iowa thing. Now I know that she was ahead of her time. Many ethnic dishes, which I now love, will combine those spices with meat…. and even add raisins or apples. But at the time I had no appreciation of her cooking.

Mom liked to try ethnic foods.  We didn’t know they were “ethnic” at the time.  But Dad’s side of the family was Swedish, and Mom’s side was Welsh.  So we enjoyed a smorgasbord of foreign foods:  ostakakka, lute fisk, rarebit, yorkshire pudding, fruk soppa, and ostakakka.  We sometimes cooked out of a 4-H project book of foreign foods.  All of this gave us a taste of foods beyond Iowa….. just not chicken with cinnamon.

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For a while our family had to receive “commodities”, which were basic staples from the USDA for poorer families.  Once a month, my parents went to town and came home with boxes of dried milk, peanut butter, dried eggs, flour, sugar, oats, olives, cheese, butter, rice, etc.  There were recipes that came with the boxes; one that I remember us eating often was Spanish rice.  Whether there was anything Spanish about it or not, it was good.  Mom would transfer the foods to other containers as she didn’t want people to know that we received commodities.  But the food was a godsend during a time that my parents were struggling to keep the farm and feed a large family.  We ate well during those times, supplemented by the garden and orchard, and our chickens and livestock.

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Butchering a pig or cow usually happened in the winter, when the meat could hang and drain without spoiling in the hot weather.  We routinely killed chickens year round as we would eat them right away.  Mom would fry the chicken, grind pork into sausage and also have ribs, pork chops, and bacon.  The cow ended up being steaks and hamburger. Sometimes Mom would can the meat, with the fat rising to the top of the jar.

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In later years, she was not able to garden or process the meat.  Yet it was important to her to have her freezer and pantry filled.  At the end, she had three chest freezers in the basement, two refrigerators, and a huge basement pantry.  She became unable to navigate stairs, and the food sat in the freezers and on the shelves, mummifying.  When it was time to move Mom out of her home, we had to empty those freezers and shelves.  This brought her to tears.

“This food was for you children,” she cried.  “This is your legacy.  You will never be hungry.”

Father, I am so grateful for my mother’s love.  Food was her love language, and she provided for us so well.  Bless those whose hands raise, and prepare food for their families.  Bless those who teach their children how to cook.  We ask that You continue to provide.  Amen.

To God be the Glory,

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