I'm going to take a small moment and do a little boasting by saying there are some g(ooooooo)d cooks in my family and much of our talent I attribute to Mom.
Some of my favorite memories of Mom don't come to mind until I start cooking. And sometimes it's not even a specific memory, it's just the essence of her.
I was making homemade cinnamon rolls last weekend and while I was kneading the dough, I remembered the times us kids crowded around our wobbly table and listened to it creak, creak as Mom kneaded dough and punched it down.
One time, we were in Barry, Illinois, parked in a friend's driveway and for several weekends, Mom made a huge batch of cinnamon rolls and we'd all take them to the kids who gathered at the local arcade (I think it was.) They looked at us like we were crazy but gratefully accepted the homemade treat. Last weekend I thought about those kids.
How did Mom's cooking impact their lives?
I have a repetoire of recipes logged in my brain and all of them were staples in my family. The fact that they still are was confirmed about a month ago when I called home and my little sister told me, "Mom's teaching me how to make enchiladas." One of our personal favorites.
Casseroles were/are a large family's stereotypical dinner meal but Mom did her best to mix it up and honestly, I don't remember a lot of casseroles. I mean, there were some but not an overabundance. But maybe that's just my perception.
A week ago, I was missing Mom - needing her company, wanting her sitting across the table from me, wishing she were accessible in person. So I made tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich and it was like she was there.
We always made fun of her for making soup on the hottest days. Without fail, she'd cook up a gigantic pot of chili when temperatures reached 100. Why? I don't know. But today soup makes me think of her - potato soup with ham brings back threads of memories, nothing too complete but I see flashes of people, scenery. But I don't recognize it.
Her broccoli and cheese soup is famous, though. I promise.
And usually when I'm cooking, absorbed in my own thoughts, I can't help but remember her one true disaster - lentils. They were cooked in a round casserole dish and we tried to mask the taste with ketchup but nothing worked. My younger brother and sister, who weren't even born at the time of the Lentil Incident, crinkle their noses at the word 'lentil' just because they've heard the horror story so many times.
Mom created in us the ability to try new recipes and the joy of serving food. One year (1990?) we volunteered for the Red Cross in Illinois and served thousands of sandwiches during the Mississippi River flooding. We traveled in a wide radius for the Red Cross, making and delivering food to the levee workers and displaced people. I remember dirty crowded rooms in buildings that were flooded just days after we'd been in them. Mostly, I remember how food impacted these people's lives. And I remember Mom at the helm.
To this day, cooking for family meals is a group effort and it's a time when we all come together, talk and pitch in. One person's making sweet tea, three others are peeling potatoes while a couple are getting the vegtable tray put together and others are setting the table. All the while, we're keeping up with a steady flow of conversation and/or sarcasm (most likely the latter!)
So yeah, food is a legacy I take from Mom - not just the food itself but the service, the joy of preparation and the satisfaction of watching people enjoy it.
I think this is why I'm reflective when I'm cooking.
I remember Mom.