Saluting Mom: Your Kitchen Stories

Just one week ago, I asked for your personal stories about the important women in your life, as part of a Mother's Day tribute. Never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate the rush of excitement and enthusiasm that was bursting open my inbox, and I am truly honored and in awe of the generous, loving spirit that came through in every one of your stories. With so many heart-felt nuggets to choose from, it was difficult to narrow the field of entries, which follow.

There's Sandi, of Attleboro, Mass., who lost her mother last June to liver cancer:

When I saw her last I fixed her shrimp and potatoes - that was June 25th. She even had a sip of wine. She waited for me to leave, and within two days she was bedridden.

Beth McElroy's grandmother, Kathryn Violet, in her Selingsgrove, Pa. bakery in 1962.

...And Colette, of Arlington, Va., who remembers her mother's weekly ritual of making bread for their family of nine in western Pennsylvania:

I vividly recall being four years old and being next to her while she was working in her large aluminum tub of yeasty bread dough (she didn't employ any mixers or gadgets) and me with my tiny aluminum pan and the spare bit of dough that she would allow me to play with.

... And Mimi, of Springfield, Mass., who recalls a friend of her mother's, "Aunt" Minette, while growing up in Memphis, Tenn.:

Each year at Passover my mother made wine and nut cakes. Aunt Minette made a much less beautiful, and much more tasty, homemade gelfilte fish. It was no ordinary gelfilte fish. No slimy in the jar stuff. A delightful ball made of boiled ground fish and matzah meal and other stuff. Homemade horseradish to spice it up. The one food that made Passover really worth looking forward to. "

And that's just for starters.

Without any further adieu, I present five amazing women - and the kids (and grandkids) they produced. Have a most delicious Mother's Day, and celebrate your special lady in the comments area below.

Stories below the jump.

Neha Bhatnagar
Arlington Va.; grew up in Richmond, Va.

My family is from India, so when I was about 12, I asked my mom what her favorite breakfast food would be because I wanted to make her a special Mother's Day meal. Except, she did not know I wanted to make her breakfast for her. And since she doesn't really like American breakfast, she only suggested Indian food. First, she said she loved Dosa.

The Bhatnagar ladies: Meera and her daughter, Neha (pictured right).

Since we're from North India, I didn't even know how to start making dosa. So I asked her what her second favorite breakfast would be. She said it was Aloo Paranta (basically, Indian bread stuffed with potato). So on the morning of Mother's Day, I got my younger brother up early and we got ready to make Aloo Paranta for my mother. Basically, I had seen my mother make is a million times, and I thought we could do it. It is pretty simple of making the dough, with atta and water, and boiling potatoes. Once the potatoes are cooked, you mash them with salt, chili pepper and cilantro. But we barely even knew how to boil a potato.

So we tried our best. The potatoes weren't fully cooked, so I ended up grating the potatoes. And then we couldn't figure out how to put it into the dough, so we made two rotis and made roti sandwiches with the potatoes and then cooked it the best we could. It was not very pretty to look at and probably not the most edible thing. Later on, my mother told me I could have used instant mashed potatoes instead of trying to make the potato stuffing by myself. But she says that she loved it and it was the best Mother's Day present.

Catherine Lacey
Chevy Chase, Md.; grew up as the youngest of three kids in Colts Neck, N.J.

I distinctly remember one Christmas when I was about 10 helping her make the trifle for dessert. She let me make the pudding for the trifle from scratch, all the while guiding me and encouraging me. When it was done, she said "You've just made something that is very difficult to make, many people who have cooked for years can't make a pudding from scratch". What a way to instill confidence in a kid!

I can never remember being afraid of failing in the kitchen- she taught me with that comment and with so many other days of encouragement in the kitchen that food and sharing in the kitchen is love and a way to take care of the ones that you love. Now she is showing my son the same things.

Beth McElroy

Colchester, Vt.; grew up in Mifflinburg, Pa.

I've attached a photo (Ed. note: Photo is at top of this page) of my grandmother, Kathryn Violet, in her bakery, Kathryn Ann's Bakery (named after my sister), in Selinsgrove Pa., in late 1962.

Sunday dinners after church were times for extended family gatherings of upwards of 20 people. Rather than a kid's table, we got to sit in "the booth", a vinyl aquamarine and silver three-piece set, which was a remnant of the bakery days.

She had two mismatched oven/ranges in her kitchen, and for dinner there was usually a ham studded with cloves, as well as fowl (goose, duck, chicken) that she killed herself. We enjoyed homemade bread with every meal, and for dessert it was not an exaggeration to say we had five kinds of pie, a cake, and always two kinds of Pennsylvania Dutch cookies: soft sugar and soft molasses.

When the grandkids wanted to sneak an extra treat, we would venture into the basement, where she kept a spare freezer. We would steal icing flowers that she had pre-made and frozen for wedding cake orders, and were never reprimanded for it.

Kathryn is coming up on her 97th birthday next month, and in my adult years I had the honor to make and decorate a birthday cake for her. Even though the cooking I do is vastly different than the meat and potato dishes she always prepared, I can definitively trace the origin of my love for cooking and baking back to her.

Jeremy Rein
Arlington, Va.; grew up in central New Jersey

As there are seven children in my family, my mother saw fit to teach us all how to cook - therefore avoiding the pain that she went through.

From the age of two and stirring cookie mixtures to the more difficult tasks of tempering eggs when we decided to whip up our first pies, to accidentally broiling cakes, Mom always encouraged us. Each child had the privilege of being a "cook's helper" one night a week. While we were not always the most willing helpers, Mother always encouraged us and helped us to broaden our cooking horizons with trips to the organic market, various farms to pick our own vegetables, fruits, and berries, membership at an organic co-op, and even assisting my sister and I, who were 10 at the time, in starting our own baking company - which was quite a success and paid for Disneyland, bikes, and allowed us to start saving accounts.

Ted Ying
Laurel, Md.; grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa.

I grew up the youngest of three children of Chinese American parents. In the sixties and seventies, my mother faced the
 common problem of whether to be a stay-at-home mom or a working mom
 and how to supplement my father's income. So, my mother decided to 
teach Chinese cooking at the local community college. She was able to 
do her classes primarily in the evenings. After two years, my parents
 renovated our basement and included a small kitchenette and my mother 
was able to move her classes to our home. Up to four nights a week,
 my mother ran classes in our basement for almost 10 years. 

I have many wonderful memories of cooking with my mother and attending
 her cooking classes.

As a youngster, the rule was that if I finished 
my homework before class started, I could attend her classes. I learned
 to cook with her and still have a lot of Asian flavor to my cooking. 
I still use a lot of her techniques and knowledge and whenever she comes to visit here, or I go to visit her, we still do a lot of cooking 
together. It's one of the things that we do that bonds us together.
 I still have Chinese dumplings in my freezer from her recent visit last 
month and every time I make some, I think of my mother.

Happy Mother's

By Kim ODonnel |  May 9, 2008; 7:18 AM ET Family
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What great stories! Thanks for posting them, Kim.

Posted by: Heather | May 9, 2008 9:36 AM

My story wasn't picked, so I thought I'd post it here. I also put it on my blog and you can see a picture there as well.

One of my fondest childhood memories involving my mom and cooking is the Russian potato salad. The salad was a staple at every birthday and holiday celebration. I remember my mom boiling and then cutting potatoes, carrots, eggs, and adding in canned peas, mayonnaise, granny smith apples and pickles. This combination might sound odd, but the amount of labor you put into the salad really pays off: and the leftovers are to die for! At first, my twin sister, Anna, and I simply observed the process. However, as we got older, my mom would give each one of us a task to perform. This was a perfect opportunity to learn how to boil things, how to cut everything in uniform cubes and how not to overmix ingredients (to prevent the salad turning into mush). Years later, Anna and I took over the salad making duties. I'm sure that when we'll have our own families (fingers crossed), we'll pass the tradition of making this potato salad and spending time together to our loved ones.

Another food item that always makes me think of my mom is her apple cake. It's a super simple recipe (and she in fact can recite it from her memory) containing flour, oil, eggs, sugar, sourcream, vinegar and of course apples. I remember eating the cake quite often when I was growing up, and ever since I moved out of the house I made it multiple times for my friends, who all liked it. The beauty of the cake, and something that my mom taught me, is how you can use your creativity and imagination to make the cake different every time you bake it. With an addition of cranberries, orange zest, and or nuts, you get a completely new result! I really think that these childhood memories I have of my mom and her teaching me how to cook and bake have instilled in me the love and appreciation for food. (oh, and just so that my dad is not left out completely, he makes the best borscht!)

Posted by: Olga | May 9, 2008 10:17 AM

My mom is not a cook by choice but by necessity, and I consequently learned to do what I can do and love to do thanks to her apathy (I mean that very nicely, really). My favorite mom-out-of-the-kitchen story was the day she came home from work and informed me that she needed two dozen cookies two days from then for a cookie swap at work...a turnabout on the usual last minute party-food request from the kids!

Posted by: librarylady | May 9, 2008 10:31 AM

I learned at my mother's elbow, whether it was stirring pudding or attending to the hollandaise sauce. It was our time together; many a school night was spent chatting about the day's events while getting dinner ready.

My favorite memories are of holidays where days were spent prepping for the big meal (including polishing of silver and cleaning the china), and then being my mom's right-hand-girl in the kitchen, washing up the cooking pots as she dirtied them while the meal was brought together. Best of all was helping ourselves to a much-deserved second dessert after all of the dishes and china, etc. were washed and dried and ready to be put away until the next big meal (I still follow this tradition, especially when using her silver and china for a holiday meal).

Oh, and coming home from school to find her waiting with sugar cookie dough ready to be rolled and cut out for Christmas cookies. Yum!

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | May 9, 2008 1:05 PM

My mom had a huge influence on my love of food and cooking. She loves good food and interesting flavors, but cannot cook well at all. When we would go to restaurants in my childhood, she would always order something fantastic and interesting. This was in stark contrast to my father who is very unadventurous with food. So, I would order food like my mom. But, when it came to cooking, Mom could never quite get it right. She had lots of cookbooks and would try to make all types of gourmet and ethnic foods. But, they usually did not taste so great. She almost always overcooked everything and the seasonings would be off. But, she showed me that food could be exciting. And, after eating her mediocre cooking for years, I decided I wanted to cook and thought that I could do just as well or better. So, at the age of 12 I decided I wanted to start cooking the family meals. My mom had no problem turning over the meal planning, shopping, and cooking to me, although not all a once. It started a couple days a week and by the time I was in high school, I shopping and cooked everyday for a family of 3 like I was the parent. I taught myself mostly from tv. I would watch PBS on Saturday mornings and was one of the first fans of the food network. My mom loves to come to my house now and eat my gourmet and exotic meals. If she was a better cook, I am not sure I would be the cook I am now. I owe it all to Mom!

Posted by: Sweetie | May 9, 2008 3:58 PM

My grandmother wouldn't let us have bought candy. She grew up before the FDA and there were all sorts of adulterations. Her grocery list was cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, spices, baking powder, and RC Cola. Everything else she grew--vegetable garden, wild fruit jelly, milk cows, chickens, eggs. She canned meat. My grandfather shot game for the table. My mother paid for artificial ponds to be dug in the cow pasture, and stocked with fish. My memories are of making butter from the cream she skimmed from the milk, watching her make cornbread or cake, getting the dinner together by going to the cans in the store room or going to the locker plant. If we caught fish, we had them for dinner.
My mother was also a good cook. She taught me how to look at recipes and how to make a balanced meal. When I was 6, I made my first cake without help. It was a success.
My daughter is now learning to cook. She has one night a week to plan and cook dinner, at her request.

Posted by: Expat now repatriated | May 9, 2008 4:04 PM

My daughter is now learning to cook. She has one night a week to plan and cook dinner, at her request.

Posted by: Expat now repatriated | May 9, 2008 4:04 PM


This is great!

It's one thing to learn to cook/bake one item at a time. It's a whole 'nother ball game learning how to plan and cook an entire meal. I'm not sure people who don't cook understand how difficult it can be to make get a balanced meal finished and on the table on time. It can take some time to master the art. But it's also well worth the effort and can be fun and rewarding. I applaud your daughter and you, her teacher.

Posted by: alex | May 9, 2008 7:02 PM

I remember coming home from 3rd grade school to find my mother removing beautiful golden braided challah from the oven. She simply wanted to try her hand at it. It wasn't Christmas without all of the little sweetmeats she would make: candied orange peel, "burnt" almonds, stuffed dates and apricots, fruitcake. At one point she wanted to perfect crepe suzette. We were in awe of the elaborate crepe suzette pan and sterno warmer; and when it flambéed in the darkened room--pure awe. Baba au rhum, stuffed cabbage, angel food cake, New England boiled dinner, swiss steak, meatloaf, pizza. She would teach her students (high-school French) how to make chocolate éclairs. I miss my mom. Her influence, integrity and good sense, not to mention, many of her recipes, live on in her children.

Posted by: Dave | May 10, 2008 9:25 AM

Oh man, I wish I had seen this last week in time to submit something. I've been slammed and had little personal time. Drats.
I think there will be some redemption to this mother's day tribute on my Emeril episode! I was able to talk about the inspiration from my mother in the kitchen and growing up cooking and eating like royalty every day.
And sadly, today, being mother's day, I got up to make her breakfast and she was already in the kitchen making lunch and dinner for the entire family (of 14). She's crazy but wouldn't have it any other way. My sis and I are only lending assistance while she in her form, bosses us around and we are her minions--and gladly so as she knows best in this house!

Happy Mother's Day too all the readers!


Posted by: FlaNBoyant Eats | May 11, 2008 1:46 PM

Hope everyone had a great Mother's Day. Thanks for posting all the great stories and pictures. What is the link for the weekly/monthly newsletter? As always, keep up the good blogging and recipes!!!

Posted by: East Coast USA | May 12, 2008 12:59 PM

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