As I have written before, my very earliest cooking memory, indeed maybe my earliest memory of any sort, is standing on a wooden kitchen chair stirring scrambled eggs in a cast iron skillet, the only kind of skillet we owned. Given where we were living (we had to move a lot), I’d guess I was about four. Whether I asked to do it or whether she was super busy with my two younger siblings, I’ll never know. She had no memory of this momentous occasion. Memories are tied to emotion, affect. Clearly, because I remembered it, the event meant more to me than to her.
Another cooking memory is when I was about 12. For Christmas, my favorite aunt gave me one of those twelve-bottle-spice-racks. The spices Mother used were: pepper, cinnamon, and chili powder. I was thrilled with the gift. There was something called Basil. Another was labeled Oregano. Wow! I remember so clearly Mother turning to Aunt Wanda, saying, “What have you done?”
Still, despite her trepidations (and some food discarded as inedible), she encouraged me to figure out what these bottles could do to food. But she was like that in all of our interests. Curious about something? Let’s look it up. Want to try something new? Why not? All three of us were pretty active in high school because she supported us in being in plays, joining clubs, running for class office, or being on sports teams.
But from an early age, I knew cooking was my passion, not just what you did to feed the family. Mother was as adventurous with her cooking as budget and imagination allowed. We were very poor for a good bit of my childhood. Food availability was sometimes an issue. Still, at one point, we had gardens and half a pig and cow each year when we lived on someone else’s farm and took care of his animals. No pay, but we had free rent and access to food that Mother canned like crazy.
She had food curiosity, too, so that’s probably where I got it. We were the first in our family to try fried shrimp. We made pizza, back when pizza was just hitting the Ohio farm country consciousness. And boy did those early pizza yeast doughs stink up the house! Interestingly we had to coax other family members to try these foods we were immediately hooked on.
Throughout her life she collected recipes and we shared them with one another. We’d talk food on the phone each time we chatted. Sometimes when we were together, we’d try to cook some new recipe.
I’ll miss that.
Mother died peacefully Sunday, September 7, 2014, sitting in her chair having just made her famous Mexican Cornbread and with cherry pie fixings on the counter. I like to remember her like that. Cooking to the end. Hugs, Mother, at that big kitchen in the sky.
A related post is "Mothers and Daughters: R.I.P., Mother" is at