As we prepare to celebrate Mother’s Day, I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect upon and pay tribute to my own mother. My mom passed away at the age of 80, nearly six years ago. While her impact on my life is felt constantly, I feel her influence most when I’m in the kitchen.
My mother didn’t consider herself a “good cook.” She always said she felt embarrassed to take dishes to church picnics and family gatherings because she thought other people’s food tasted better than hers. (I’ve since come to realize all good cooks think this way!) While she would, of course, have an occasional failure, I loved her food and thought she was a wonderful cook.
For everyday meals my mother rarely used a recipe, and mostly prepared the native North Carolina dishes she had learned from her grandmother. Her southern cooking wasn’t particularly “healthy” by today’s standards. She used lard and seasoned with fatback; she made fried chicken for supper almost every Sunday, and we had bacon or sausage and eggs for breakfast every single day. She knew how to use all the stray parts of an animal. Ever heard of souse, also known as head cheese? Yep, she made that! By no means could she be considered a ‘gourmet,’ but my mother cooked three nourishing meals a day every single day when I was growing up. Fortunately for me, she was always patient and generous in sharing her knowledge.
Here are just a few cooking basics that I learned from my mom:
- The big “T” stands for tablespoon
- The small “t” stands for teaspoon
- How to separate an egg yolk from the white
- It is important to sift flour and cocoa powder when baking
- How to whip egg whites and cream
- How to test a cake for doneness
- Not to over-mix pancake or muffin batter
- Browned food equals flavorful food
- Rinse out cans to get every last bit of goodness
- It’s okay to take risks and make substitutions, improvising with what you have on hand. (This is a lesson for life as well!)
Over the years I’ve certainly added to this knowledge base and have challenged myself with far more complex recipes and techniques than she ever attempted, but those new skills could only be acquired after knowing the basics. She gave me a solid base on which to build.
Yes, one can certainly Google the answers to any cooking-related question nowadays. Cooking programs on television and cookbooks are abundant and are terrific sources of information. But Google can never replace the beautiful memories I have of learning how to cook at my mother’s side. And no cooking program or book can ever replicate the bond that grew from the time we spent together in the kitchen.