I started writing a book about my mother and me.
I didn’t mean to.
It’s weird how you sit down to write one thing and when you look up it’s something completely different.
I have this collection of recipes that my mother gathered. Some are cut outs from the newspaper, some are cards that friends gave and others are recipes that my relatives told her.
Those are my favorites.
Some recipes are written leisurely, you can see the pauses between the letters where she got clarification. Others are scribbled; her already barely legible writing even more illegible.
But what interests me most is that as I flip the pages i can remember eating every one of these recipes.
Some were legendary and we still talk about them. And some were flat out nasty. But every one takes me to a place with my mother that i haven’t been in over six years. I remember the pie she baked when we found out the college i was going to. I remember the bread that she would make every week and eat with a rotisserie chicken on the back porch. I remember the crazy salads she would make, heavy from the ingredients, a meal before people made salads into meals.
My mother wasn’t a great cook until I got older and she got more patient. For several years we knew dinner was ready when we heard the smoke alarm go off. Eventually my father just removed it from the hallway. But what she lacked in actual talent she made up for in devotion. My mother studied recipes. She subscribed to a number of magazines and newspapers and on Sunday afternoon she would spread them out and read every single page. We weren’t allowed to interrupt her. It was her me time.
Every recipe that she cut out she made. Lasagna. Paella. Pasta Primavera. Mussel stew. Irish soda bread. Peach cobbler. The list goes on and on. And over time she built a small army of great dishes. Ones she could put on the table in half an hour and wow whoever was sitting at the table.
Those are the meals that I miss when i am homesick.
When I graduated high school my parents threw this huge party. It went on for three days and all my relatives descended on our small house. there was so much food. fried chicken. Fried Porgies. stuffed lobster. ribs. chorizo and potatoes. homemade macaroni and cheese. collards.pasta salad. but the dish du jour was my mother’s Pasta Primavera. It was simple to make as she was forced to demonstrate several times over the weekend. It was cream, Parmesan Reggiano, peas, veggies from our garden and spaghetti. She made it in a gumbo pot and as far as i could tell she just dumped all the ingredients in the pot and they cooked together. every time she finished a batch she had to turn around and start another. At one point, we caught my brothers best friend standing next to the stove, eating directly from the pot with a serving fork. He couldn’t get it in fast enough. And i can’t blame him. My uncles were right behind him ready to eat what he hadn’t.
After my mother died I tried other people’s Pasta Primavera. It was always close to what i wanted but never close enough. I tried to make it myself. I google searched and made every recipe that sounded like what she made. but i never found the right one.
And then I remembered she had this recipe book. She actually had several but there was one that whenever we moved she would tuck into her purse. She never put it in a box and she never entrusted it to anyone. She always kept it in the same spot in the house.
When I took the book to my new house i put it away. I put it on my bookshelf and never looked at it.
Until recently. I woke up with an intense peach cobbler craving. I knew it was simple to make. My mother would make it when company was on the way over or they showed up unannounced. It would bake as she made coffee and chatted. But every recipe I found online was ridiculously involved. What I remember was five ingredients and a pan. But what I kept finding was two pages of ingredients.
My mother had a full-time job and active kids to corral. She didn’t make anything that involved two pages of ingredients.
I opened my mother’s recipe book today and the first page it opened to was her peach cobbler. It was actually my great-grandmother’s peach cobbler but somehow it became known as Mommy’s peach cobbler.
I didn’t make it.
I don’t have any peaches, canned or fresh, in the house and I am low on flour. But i will this weekend. And i plan to have it with strong black coffee just the way Mommy would have served it.