By Patrick F. Cannon
My mother will have been dead for 60 years in a few months. I think of her most often around Mother’s Day. This year, my wife Jeanette and I had my daughter Beth and her husband Boyd for dinner. We had prime pot roast from our favorite butcher, and a bread pudding with fresh berries for dessert. It was all a picture, but alas, no one thought to whip out a cell phone camera to document the menu.
When my dear mother was cooking, the cell phone had not yet been invented, and I’m not too sure about the camera either. In fact, I don’t believe my parents ever owned a camera, so any surviving photos of their children were taken by someone else. Imagine not having your every move documented as you grow up? And not being able to “share” the images with all and sundry whether they want to see them or not?
Anyway, my mother’s culinary triumphs were never photographed for posterity. As her son, I feel some obligation to give a wider public some idea of her more imaginative recipes, so that others might try and enjoy them.
We ate a lot of meat and potatoes, and there was nothing particularly adventurous in these every day menus. She would take a big hunk of meat, salt and pepper it according to her mood, then pop it into the oven for at least 30 minutes longer than necessary. This would insure that all the savory juices were cooked out of the roast. But there was method here. To whatever was left of the juices and other stuck-on stuff at the bottom of the pan was added a mixture of flour and water, creating gravy that could perhaps add some life back to the grey and dry slices of meat and mashed potatoes. Adding some canned peas to the plate would create quite a picture!
But this was everyday stuff. When my mother’s imagination soared, she could create wonders. For example, she would buy a ham steak, of a thickness (or thinness rather) that would guarantee the fried meat would have the consistency of a roof shingle. Then, when it was fried just so, into the pan would be poured a bottle of Maraschino cherries to create a dish I like to call “Jambon al la Maraschino.” This would be accompanied by mashed potatoes (natch) and canned corn.
Another favorite was a preparation called “Casserole de Heinz.” Simplicity itself. To cooked egg noodles, add Heinz Ketchup (no substitutes please), mix thoroughly and top with Oscar Meyer breakfast sausages. Pop into the oven for a half hour or so, and then serve with canned green beans. Wash it all down with a big glass of milk. Note the balance of protein, carbohydrates and vitamins.
Finally, there was my all time favorite – kidney stew. Take a lamb kidney or two and cut into bite sized pieces. Put into a large pot full of water. Bring to a simmer and skim the crud off the surface until it stops forming. Do not open the windows, lest the neighbors call the police. Add potatoes and some carrots and cook until they’re very soft. Serve piping hot in bowls. A slice or two of Holsum Bread to soak up the gravy completes a unique experience.
Only my venerable brother Pete and I remain to carry on these family recipes, and I have my doubts about his culinary talents (spaghetti and meat balls excepted). So, I hope one of my loyal readers will take up the challenge and try them out. If you do, please send along a cell phone photo.
Copyright 2016, Patrick F. Cannon
3 thoughts on “Home Cookin’”
Amazing the diets one can survive as a youngster. My mother was hardly a gourmet cook but it was our good fortune that she relied on the simple but flavorful home cooking traditions (cucina povera) of her immigrant mother. Nevertheless I had my fair share of pre-packaged, canned, frozen, and otherwise processed food that was cheap and easy to prepare. Considering how few households actually cook anymore, I’d wager most kids today would welcome the meals you had, except for the kidneys. Their plight is even worse when you think of the Michelle Obama lunches they have to face at school. I’ve seen the pictures!
My brother reminded me of he many fine meals we had courtesy of Chef Boy-ar-dee, that master of everything Italian. And, of course, Kraft Dinner.
Ah Chef Boiardi. And Rice-a-Roni. Twinkies for dessert. Or a Devil Dog.