Mother’s Day Memories

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.

How I wish I had a picture of me as a child in the kitchen with my mother! But there were no cell phone cameras back then and we never thought to take pictures of such mundane activities.

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.

At 14 months, I wasn’t big enough to help in the kitchen yet.

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.

In memory of my mother, Vada McLamb Dawson, June 15, 1930 – May 28, 2011.

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.


7 thoughts on “Mother’s Day Memories

  1. This could have been written for my mom as well. Nothing can replace the knowledge she transferred and is still in use today. I see your mom in you. Thanks for posting.

  2. Hi, Kathy!

    Your Mom was such a lovely looking woman. Her eyes twinkle — and she radiates joy just like her daughter! None of this has anything to do with her cooking — BUT it looks like she whipped up a German chocolate cake. And what can be better than that? (Except maybe lemon meringue pie!)

    My own mother, who lived to an astounding 101, was a mediocre cook (like me). Still, she had some specialities, such a leg of lamb. And she could always be relied upon to put on quite a “spread” when entertaining. Shortly before the arrival of any company, she would announce, “I’m getting very nervous!” This had to do with her concern that there wouldn’t be enough food for the assemblage, even though one of her modest buffets could have moved an army on its stomach for a long day of fighting.

    My husband’s mother, from Oklahoma, was the notable chef of the family — at least when it came to desserts. As a child she chased chickens around the yard and wrung their squawking necks — so she refused to eat fowl for the rest of her life. Her meat dishes were bland or overdone BUI her sweet dishes — particularly her cinnamon rolls — were superb.

    As for her daughter, I would rather write about food than prepare it. Sorry to have missed class today. YuNan phoned that she would not be going, and since I was a bit under the weather I decided to stay put. As punishment, I will now walk down to Target and back.

    Thanks for a great blog.

  3. Kathy,
    Thanks for sending to me your “Mother’s Day Memories”, paying tribute to your Mom in such a wonderful way!! I love your comments and especially the photos 🙂 ! The 1st one of you and her, in which you were just 14 months old, is so cute, and she looks a lot like Alma! I remember what a great cook she was. I learned a lot from her also.
    Hope all is going good for both you and Jose. I’m enjoying your Eclectic Girl, Lifestyle Designs. Thanks for sharing those, also. Take care and come when you can.
    Love and prayers, Aunt Ada

  4. Kathy,

    Loved reading your very personal memories of your mother. I always thought your Mom was a great cook. I know she cooked with her heart and soul. She introduced me to cooked “greens.” Believe she was astonished that I was completely unaware of what is now one of my favorite foods.

    Your baby picture with your mother is a real treasure!


  5. She grew up on cooked-to-death collard greens bathed in fatback so she probably was surprised her sister didn’t make that dish for her family! Glad you have that memory of her.

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