I look through several old photographs of my mother. All dressed up and wearing a fancy apron, she is cooking . The small, apartment size, electric stove tucked away in the corner of the narrow kitchen is nearly inaccessible for her use. Whoever designed that kitchen put it in as an afterthought. This was the “modern” post-war house. The left rear burner was a deep cooker. A tall aluminum pot fit down into a well, and once the lid was on, it would lie flush. Today’s equivalent, I suppose, would be the crock pot.
In the photo, my mother is kneeling down and sliding a perfectly roasted turkey out of the oven. I remember the Thanksgiving turkey’s of my childhood. The closer they weighed to thirty pounds, the more delicious they were! My mother’s ability to maneuver anything in or out of that narrow kitchen was nothing short of a miracle, and she frequently pulled off these miracles on a regular basis; not just for the six of us, but while entertaining guests, too.
Being raised in Pennsylvania farm country, my mother had learned a lot of her culinary talents from her mother, Orilla, who once worked, cooking for 50 hungry lumberjacks in the Lumber Camps around the Pennsylvania, New York border. Later, in the town of Port Allegany, Orilla worked in a diner and was famous throughout Porter county for her Homemade Custard Pie. In researching my mother’s family tree, I have only found Connecticut Yankees. It is a mystery that my grandmother mostly cooked in Pennsylvania Dutch style (really German). But, I recently learned from a cousin that Orilla was directly descended from the original Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam. Could it be that their cooking style was the same?
My mother could bake any kind of pie, mincemeat and chocolate cream being my favorite. I remember one time when we spent a whole year tending to a grape arbor in the side yard. When the grapes were ripe, we carefully plucked them and took them into the kitchen where my mother spent the rest of the day making grape pie. It was the most delicious pie I ever had in my life. I don’t recall her ever making it again, and I have never seen it offered anywhere else, either. It certainly was a lot of work to grow those grapes!
My mother’s biscuits were never matched by anyone, except maybe, by my Cousin Eva Mae, who was so thin, you would never think she ate any of what she cooked. Gravy: my mother made the best giblet gravy. It took nearly as long to make it as the turkey took to cook. The gravy pan sat simmering on the stove all day, tantalizing our taste buds. Spice cake with peanut butter icing: I have never been able to duplicate it, and long ago gave up trying. She also made chocolate cake with Marshmallow Icing. Yummy!
She knew how to make a big country breakfast, too. It is probably too rich for today’s tastes, but when a whole passle of relatives spent the night, my mother made bacon basted fried eggs that were curly crispy around the edges and the yolk cooked to order. She could roast any kind of meat, do up any kind of potatoes, even Scalloped or Au Gratin. Some other favorites I remember are recipes I seldom cook: Goulash, Pigs in Blankets, Yankee Pot Roast, Boston Baked Beans (cooked in the oven overnight). The list goes on!