Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Home Cooking

My mother died seven and ½ years ago and every day I seem to be reminded of her in some way.  Sometimes it is just a few words that she used to say, a picture, an important family event or perhaps something that I think she would have liked.  This past Saturday we celebrated another important family occasion – the marriage of my nephew.  I know my Mom was there in spirit…but it would have been so much better if she could have been there in person.  My niece’s husband made the comment to me that he thought he would have really loved my Mom…partly because of the food that she used to make that we have described to him.  At the time, I thought that was a sweet comment…but it made me think a bit about my mother’s cooking.

Mom and Grandma Cappy in the kitchen
Mom really didn't learn to cook from her mother.  Grandma Cappy most likely felt that cooking was a job and not something that she particularly enjoyed.  Mom’s grandmother, Mom Friddle, probably had a more negative opinion about cooking…as she never really learned how and probably didn't care all that much.  However, when Grandma Cappy married Gwen Shearer after the death of her husband, Richard Tannahill…my mother gained a grandmother who loved to cook and was very good at it.

When Mom was eight years old, she spent a few weeks up at the Grandpa Gwen’s lumber mill on McCormick Ridge in Waha near Lewiston, ID.  Mom said that she spent a lot of time playing with the frogs and wondering around the woods…but she spent most of the time with her new grandmother.  Granny, as we always called her, was the camp cook for her son.  I think there were about 15 men who worked there and every day Granny would make three meals to feed these men.  A hearty breakfast was always in order as well as lunch and a good dinner.  Granny started at that point to teach Mom a bit about cooking.  So, she took a bucket and turned it over and Mom climbed on top and began peeling potatoes.  Before long, Mom was making the whole meal under Granny’s tutelage.  Thus at eight years old, Mom learned the basics of cooking and also the love of cooking.

Above - Granny Shearer - Below - Cook Cabin at McCormick Ridge, Waha, ID 
Growing up, it was always exciting when Mom got a new cookbook.  Soon the experimentation would start and we would get to try all kinds of new and different things.  One of my favorite dishes that came out of a recipe found in a magazine was her Bavarian Egg Nog.  It is a jelled Egg Nog salad with just a touch of rum.  To this day, no Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is complete without the Egg Nog.  My siblings and I all still love the dish…I don’t think that their wives or kids have the same type of fondness for the dish.  I am the youngest of four children and all of our birthdays are within a month of each other – so from mid January to mid February there are four Johnson birthdays.  As we got older, Mom would make each one of us our cake of choice.  Out of the four birthdays, there were at least two that had to have Chocolate cake with German Chocolate frosting.  The chocolate cake was made with beets and was always a big hit…but the frosting was really popular.  Mom would make a double batch of frosting because all too often each one of us kids would take a large swipe of the frosting and there wouldn't be any left for the birthday party.
Mom did a great job with the standard dishes…always adding her own twist.  She taught me to make her potato salad and deviled eggs…her meatloaf and Dad’s favorite stuffed peppers.  I learned how to make an apple pie and pumpkin pie and make fudge…all under her tutelage.  Mom gave me the cooking skills to try just about anything in the kitchen.  Sometimes I succeeded and sometimes I failed…but I was always learning something else.

This weekend I am going to cook dinner for my nephew.  A few years ago, I introduced him to my mother’s hash.  My nephew not only loved it…he requested it for his birthday meal last year from me.  He astonished me by eating three platefuls and took the rest back home.  My brother said that he shared the apple pie that I had made…but he wouldn't share the hash.  My other brother visited not too long after the first time that I had made the hash for my nephew…and begged me to make it for him…which I did after a little wheedling. 

There are a lot of family members who tell me that I am a good cook. 
Ready for Thanksgiving Dinner...and Mom's Egg Nog
I suppose I am…but not really because anything that I have really done.  I had a wonderful teacher who taught me several tricks that I am have employed quite often.  I am asked quite often for a recipe that mostly came out of my experience cooking…and have to admit that I will have to try and write it down because I don’t have a recipe that I follow.  There are a lot of home cooks out there like me who were lucky enough to learn how to cook from a Mom…or others who learned from a Granny.  I worry sometimes that the skills will be lost by some of the younger generations…but I remember that there are still some Mom’s, Grandmothers, and maybe some aunts out there who still enjoy cooking and passing their tricks on to a new generation.   So, as I prepare meals, bake deserts or cookies, or perhaps make a snack – I remember my Mom…she was my teacher and every time my cooking is complimented…I thank Mom for having taught me how to cook!