Recently I was challenged, by a Bible study book I was using, to think back to my childhood and memories of my mother as a homemaker -- to reflect on things she may have taught me.
As far as cleaning and housework-type skills, I didn’t learn the lessons I should have, in part because not all the right lessons were taught, and in part because the ones that were taught were not absorbed.
But oh, the kitchen memories! Now THOSE are worth their weight in gold!
There were always wonderful things to eat coming out of Mom’s kitchen. There was always something homemade to snack on after school, and supper was always a good, nourishing meal. Only occasionally was something served that I truly disliked, such as liver. I also remember not liking runny eggs for breakfast, and I didn’t really care for pot roast as a child because we always had farm-raised beef that was not cut particularly well, and there were all these tendons and other things showing up in the meat that just made me gag. Other than those few exceptions, I loved the food that Mom prepared.
It’s funny how some of my sharpest memories are of little things -- like how she always set my dad’s place at the table with a separate little sauce dish for any vegetable (for example, summer squash, or peas) that might be too liquid on the plate. She didn’t do this for the rest of us as I recall, just for Dad. That was the way he liked such things to be served. Another little thing was how she always made her own salad dressing fresh for each salad we ate. As far as I remember, there was no making up a whole jar of dressing and storing it in the fridge. She never measured, just shook up oil, vinegar, and seasonings. I was probably ten or even older before I tasted -- and instantly fell in love with -- bottled Wish-Bone Italian dressing, at my grandmother’s house.
My mom was always exchanging good recipes with friends and family too. She has a recipe box full of them, scribbled on bits and pieces of paper and envelopes as well as on 3x5” cards. Most of her scribbled-down recipes (probably relayed to her across the kitchen table or over the phone) have rather sketchy directions and amounts, but they’re fun to look back at and try to translate.
Holidays were special times at home -- especially Christmas. I’ve written an entire book of my Christmas memories, and am sure I barely scratched the surface of them. Thanksgiving was also special. Often we went to my grandmother’s, but other times we ate at home, and Mom went to a lot of work to make things festive and to involve us kids in the preparations. I remember grinding cranberries and oranges for cranberry relish, washing seedy red grapes, cracking nuts, etc. Mom loved to have fancy dishes of grapes, nuts, and candy around for people to enjoy on Thanksgiving Day. I believe this is something that her family had often done, at least in later years when they could afford such things.
Another kitchen memory is how warm and cozy it always seemed when we came in from playing outdoors in the winter. We would be greeted with mugs of hot cocoa with blobs of marshmallow fluff melting on top. I never thought much about it at the time, but several older children from a neighbor family often went sliding with us, and they were always welcomed in Mom’s kitchen too. These children were from a very poor family, I can’t imagine that they ever were greeted with mugs of hot cocoa at home. A smack upside the head was probably more like it, unfortunately. I was too young to realize that, and also too young to realize what a wonderful opportunity my mom was giving them to spend some time with a real family around a welcoming kitchen table.
As I’ve thought about this topic ever so briefly, I realize there are many more kitchen memories yet to surface. I’ll be sharing more of them across my kitchen table in the weeks and months to come...
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