I watched as she broke eggs without leaving shells in the batter. I begged to help when she switched on the electric mixer. My mouth watered as she turned a few simple ingredients into golden brown biscuits that she filled with salty country ham.
Like so many of you, I wanted to cook like my mama. I wanted to have the skills to fry chicken my family would beg for or make an Italian cream cake to take to a church auction. I wanted to turn a pork roast into Sunday dinner and figure out how to time a meal just right so the mashed potatoes would be hot and ready to eat at the same time the meatloaf came out of the oven.
I learned many things by watching Mama cook, giving her a hand when she wanted it and by asking questions.
I listened when she told me to salt the fresh green beans after they had cooked, not before. I remembered how she saved leftover vegetables in the freezer to use in a pot of homemade soup later on. I paid attention when she saved bacon grease to season field peas and butter beans
With Mother’s Day on my mind, I asked friends what they learned about cooking from their mother. Turns out they had similar experiences.
Debbi Baker Covington, who grew up in Wilson and now runs a successful catering business in Beaufort, South Carolina, said she learned everything she knows about cooking from watching her mom, the late Patricia Baker, at work in the kitchen.
“She kept me right there with her,” Debbi said.
Debbi started her “help” as a toddler, sitting on the floor and banging pots while her mom cooked. Then she got old enough to stand in a chair and stir.
“I was always in there helping her do something,” Debbi said, recalling family favorites such as spaghetti, deviled eggs, sour dough bread and coconut cake.
Debbi remembers making a cake every Saturday that she’d have waiting for her daddy when he got home from the shop. The cake might have been from a mix, but the icing was homemade and would soften when she put it on the warm cake.
Debbi still cooks her mother’s recipes for her and her husband, Vince. When her mother was sick and living with the Covingtons, Debbi wrote down her mother’s recipes. She realized the time was coming when she would no longer be able to call her mother and ask how to cook something.
Jon Bridgers, a childhood friend who is now a Facebook friend, often posts photographs of the meals he has prepared at his home in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Jon said he learned how to cook from his mom, Cathryn Bridgers.
“I was a mama’s boy,” he said. “Wherever she went, I went.” That included the kitchen.
Jon said he showed an interest in whatever his mom was doing.
“I loved to eat, and she took the time to show me how to do things.”
Cathryn didn’t cook by a cookbook, he said. Jon said he doesn’t use a cookbook much either.
“When it comes to Mama’s cooking, I know how to put things together.”
Like most of us, Jon associates many foods with good memories.
“I can be somewhere, and they’re serving chicken pastry, and that reminds me of my mom,” he said.
Jon still rolls out his own pastry strips for chicken pastry, he said, just like his mama used to do. He also makes her potato salad, lemon cake, turkey dressing and chocolate pie.
Jon shares his recipes at grannysrecipe.blogspot.com.
With Mother’s Day just a few days away, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own mama: how much I miss her and how much I learned from her. But as I grow older, I also look to the next generation and wonder what my children have learned from me about life, child rearing and housekeeping, and what they will pass on to their children.
I love it when my son calls and asks me a cooking question, no matter how simple. And I treasure the times my daughter either pulls up a stool to keep me company while I cook or when she stands beside me in the kitchen, cooking with me.
And I really feel like things have come full circle when my granddaughter, now 5, stands on her pink stool beside me at the kitchen counter and begs to help when I turn on the electric mixer.
And I always let her help — just like Mama did.
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Debbi’s mother made these brownies for her daughter’s bridesmaids’ luncheon in 1991. “The brownies will cut evenly if you use a plastic knife – one of the many tricks I’ve learned over the years!”
1 (21.5-ounce) package fudge brownie mix
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (16-ounce) can chocolate fudge frosting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare brownie mix according to package directions. Spread into greased 9x13-inch baking pan.
In a small bowl, beat cream cheese, butter and cornstarch until fluffy. Gradually beat in sweetened condensed milk, egg and vanilla until smooth. Pour evenly over brownie batter.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until top is lightly browned. Cool thoroughly. Spread with frosting. Store covered in refrigerator. Makes 24 brownies.
Patricia Baker from Debbi Covington’s “Celebrate Everything”
Mama’s Deviled Eggs
Debbie said these are the best deviled eggs she’s ever eaten. “My mother was an amazing cook! This is her famous recipe. She always used Miracle Whip and so do I.”
4 tablespoons salad dressing or mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
Paprika, for dusting
Place eggs in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil for 12 minutes. Drain hot water from eggs and rinse with tap water until cool enough to handle. Remove eggs from shells and slice in half lengthwise.
Separate yolks and place into a bowl. Add salad dressing, mustard, relish and salt and pepper; mash together with a fork until creamy and smooth. Fill the egg white halves with the egg yolk-relish filling. Dust with paprika.
Refrigerate; serve cold. Serves 12.
Patricia Baker from Debbi Covington’s “Celebrate Everything”
The Best Chocolate Pie Ever
1 pie crust (baked 10-15 minutes)*
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
3 eggs (separated); save whites
3 tablespoons Hershey cocoa
3 tablespoon flour
Mix dry ingredients well; mix egg yolks in milk and add to dry mixture.
Cook on low heat; stir often until thick. Pour mixture into crust.
To make meringue, blend the egg whites until fluffy; add 1 cap of vanilla. Add about 1⁄4 cup sugar and blend some more until fluffy and stiff peaks form.
Put that on top of pie and bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden on top.
*This recipe either makes 2 regular pie crusts or 1 deep dish crust.
Cathryn Bridgers and Lilly Bridgers (Contributed by Jon Bridgers)
Helen’s Blueberry Muffins
There’s no telling how many of these muffins I’ve eaten in my life. Mama made them often with fresh or frozen blueberries we had picked. They were always a welcomed treat. The muffins are good for breakfast or with a meal.
1⁄4 cup shortening
1⁄2 cup sugar
2 eggs (beaten)
2⁄3 cup milk
2 cups self-rising flour
3⁄4 to 1 cup blueberries
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cream shortening, sugar and eggs. (Mama’s note says she uses a spoon, not an electric mixer.) Add milk and flour and mix well. Fold in blueberries.
Bake in greased muffin tins for 30 minutes.
Makes 1 dozen.
Helen Owens Boykin (Contributed by Lisa Boykin Batts)