With today being Mother's Day, of course, I am thinking about, remembering, and missing my own mom.
Just recently I scanned half a dozen pictures of her into my computer. As I looked at those still images of her at various times of her life I was saddended a bit by how distant I feel from her sometimes.
My memories of her and all the things she taught me and did for me while giving me a childhood I fondly remember, are part of my life every day. (Yes, I do realize that I remember, speak of, and write about my life growing up from an idyllic perspective).
The picture above was taken as she was cutting up celery for the bread stuffing (aka "dressing") for our dinner on Christmas day in 1978. It was a very typical of where my mom spent an important portion of her day as I was growing up. Sitting in her chair at our dining room table prepping things to be put on the stove or cooking right there on the table in her ubiquitous electric skillet.
Her assistant (which could have been either dad, Shari, Peggy, or me) would take the bowls, pots or pans of whatever needed to be simmered, broiled, or baked to the stove in the kitchen. He or she would also bring mom all the things she needed from the cabinets, refrigerator or the pantry just inside the cellar door. That's how mom made supper most of the time. She got everyone in the family involved.
Being a life long lover of food I often reminisce about how much I loved the many meals my mother made from her cooking station. A lot of the time she would serve prepackaged foods that only had to be warmed in the oven or on the stove or in the skillet.
Entrees by Encore, Dinty Moore beef stew (served over flat 1/2 inch wide Pennsylvania Dutch brand egg noodles), and Swanson pot pies were some of our favorites. Of course there was always potatoes and a vegetables to go with it. Baked beans and apple sauce and occasionally cole slaw or pickled eggs (the last two I didn't touch) were also frequent parts of our meals.
About twice a month we had pasta. The varieties that came to our table included spaghetti, vermicelli, rigatoni, twists (rotini) and shells (conchiglie). All were served with Ragu or Prego sauce. Mom add always added a pound of ground beef for flavor. On special occasions we'd have baked ziti or lasagna with buttered garlic bread.
My favorite pasta dish that my mom made was Italian style perogies. A dish I introduced to our family after I had it, believe it or not, in my middle school cafateria.
Now for those of you who don't know what perogies are to the left is a a picture of the package of the brand mom used. you can see what they look like. They are pockets of pasta with mashed potatoes, cheese and onion flavor inside.
The most popular way to serve perogies in our area was deep fried. They were public swimming pool snack bar staple in the summer. But they can also be boiled and served they same way as pasta.
Mom lined a 2 inch deep pan with cooked perogies covered in spaghetti sauce with slices of mozzarella and grated Parmesan cheese. She baked them until the sauce was hot and the cheeses were melted. They were delicious. I'd love to have them again. But unfortunately any type of pasta is on my permanent "do not ingest or you'll regret it" list.
But the thing that set my mother apart from others in the "dinner making business" was her casseroles. These were delicious combinations of foods that some might not think would go together or would taste good the way they were combined. But my mom was the "Casserole Queen". I don't know how she came up wit them or where she found the recipies but she was very creative in the kitchen.
Here, in ramdom order, are 4 of my favorite Mom's casseroles and dishes with their descriptions.
Frankly Cheesy: This was sort of a variation on Fettucinni Alfredo. It was a combination of sliced hot dogs, egg noodles, onions, cream of celery soup, and grated cheese. It was baked until it was crunchy on top and the cheese was melted. If you sprinkled grate Parmesan cheese over top before you ate it made it even better. It was very good. A bit greasy at times but good.
Macaroni, Corn and Spam: This dish pulled no punches and was simple to make. The three ingredients were: elbow macaroni, Spam cut up in 1/2 inch cubes, and a couple cans of sweet corn. They were mixed with mushroom soup and were baked in the oven until hot. You knew it was done when it was no longer soupy, but not dry.
Souper Burgers: Although this was not technically a casserole this was one of Mom's "signature" dishes. Her version of Sloppy Joe's. Ground beef, browned with the grease drained was combined with 2 cans of Campbell's Alphabet Vegetable Beef soup in its condensed form. Heated in the afore mentioned electric skillet and flavored with just the right combination and amount of ketchup and mustard. It was ready when it was hot and thickened enough to be spooned onto hamburger buns. This was a very popular dish. Not just with our family but with some of my cousins who would occasionally spent weekends or a week during the summer at our house. My cousin, Gary, would always request to have Souper Burgers every time he was at our house.
Hash Pinwheels: This was by far the most unusual combination of ingredients of any of mom's dishes. You made a pie crust with Bisquick and rolled it out flat in as close to a rectangle as you could. Then you spread a can of corned beef hash over it. Starting from the end you rolled the pie crust so it was round and long like a Swiss Roll cake. You would then cut that roll into 1 inch slices so that they when you placed them on a cookie sheet they looked like pinwheels or perhaps unbaked cinnamon buns. You would then bake them long enough for the pie crust was brown and flaky.
While the pinwheels were in the oven baking you made the sauce on top of the stove. It was a white sauce made from a milk base with several different types of grated cheese, and a couple teaspoons of mustard to give it some flavor. On low heat you simmered and stirred the sauce until was hot, well blended, and smooth.
Once the pinwheels were finished baking you served them with enough sauce to cover but not smother them.
This dish was by far my favorite of all the "casseroles" that Mom made over the years. I liked Souper Burgers as well but Hash Pinwheels were my favorite. But no matter what was on the table I always asked for seconds. My mind, stomach and taste buds remember all 4 of these dishes fondly. I miss not being able to have them again.
In today's world of nutrition conscience diets I'm sure some of these dishes would be considered unhealthy. But you must remember my mom was feeding a family of 4 (5 before my sister Peggy got married) on a one income household. She had to find a way to make her food budget stretch as far as possible. So she found ways to prepare inexpensive food so it would go a long way and taste good. I believe she accomplished it pretty well; except when she made liver and onions (YUCK!)
Anyone who has tried or makes a habit of trying to eat a healthy diet knows that it's rather expensive. Even though I don't know for sure I imagine it was back in the 1960's, 70's and 80's as well. Sometimes as a parent you have to do your best with the opitons you're given.
I still get the urge to try some of her old reciepies every once in a while. But since most of them were high in carbs I'd have to find a way to make them with low carb ingredients. I don't know if they'd be the same.
If the way to a guy's heart is through his stomach one of the ways my mother made her way deep into mine was with all the dinners she made for me for the 25 years of my life that I live at home with my parents. The meals I've mentioned are just a fraction of what she made for us. I'm sure if my sisters were to give their input for this post they would mention foods and casseroles I haven't.
Mom's success in her role as meal planner and cook for our family is one of the things about her that I loved. I haven't even mentioned desserts, the special holiday dinners, and hundreds of dozens of Christmas cookies she made for the whole family over all the years of her life. Let's not forget the coupon clipping, creating menus for a two-week period, and the hundreds of trips to the grocery store. All so she could make her family happy at the dinner table.
That brings me back to where this post started, the picture at the top of this post. From what I've just written you can see how a snapshot of Mom preparing dinner at the dining room table is an appropriate representation of who she was and an example of how much she gave to us.
No matter what she was making for her husband and children there was always one thing Mom put in all her dishes, casseroles and dinners. And even though she has been gone from this world for nearly 7 1/2 years; I can still feel that one common ingredient she put in all she did for us, not just in the kitchen, but in all that she did for us. That was her love. I can't wait to see her again someday. I'm going to ask for a 2nd helping.