The kitchen has been my direct connection to my mother. It was in the kitchen she talked to me, told me tails of her childhood, her life story and I have come to understand it. It was where she felt the most useful and the happiest. It’s where I saw her smile the most.
I didn’t have a chance to learn from her or pick up her skills. She passed on when I was just a child. But she did leave me a legacy, an amazing legacy now that I think about it. Though her life she taught me that anything was possible if I so much as tried. My mother had about a third grade reading level yet she taught me to read and she taught herself how to cook. She has always been my hero.
When she died, all I had left was to take those same cookbooks and read. I taught myself how to cook, just like she had. And I too, am happy in the kitchen. I connect deeply with my past, with my mother while using the things that I have learned.
While I preparing diner the other day I became rather introspective. I occurred to me that a lot of people have lost touch with the basics of cooking. Either they don’t have the time, or the knowledge or something. But I felt a bit of a loss, here I was cooking in my kitchen and I had memories of my mother doing the same. She never made spaghetti sauce from scratch. But she did make other meals and memories. Her meatloaf, chicken and dumplings, cornbread, black eye peas, pancit, egg rolls, roasts, potato salad, grilled cheese, potato pancakes and even French toast. I remember her making them all as I sat by the kitchen table, eager to help if I could but I was always watchful.
Halfway though eating my bowl of spaghetti it occurred to me that my children are growing up with unique tastes. The sauce I make will never be found in a can, that taste can not be duplicated and stocked on a store shelf. There is no way for them to ever have home cooking like mom’s unless they learn my recipes and make it themselves. There is no substitution.
It brought back a memory. My mom used Prego spaghetti sauce when she made spaghetti. She never added anything to it, nothing to make it uniquely her own. I could cook the same meal she did to this day and the taste will not have changed unless the manufacture changes the recipe. It’s a flavor and a meal that’s been frozen in stasis, never growing, evolving or changing. It doesn’t really make me think of my mom either. Her touch isn’t there, her feel, her love, her creativity isn’t present. I just can’t connect with her though spaghetti.
But there are other meals, treats and deserts that I can. Mostly reliving memories with her as I do so. And I wonder. How would she take it if I could tell her I figured out how to make lump-less gravy? Or that I figured out her chicken and dumpling recipe that wasn’t written down? Or that I could really use the help in making pancit? Or that I only charred one roast, like she had done once too? Or that I mastered making grilled cheese without burning the bread and that I have a tomato soup recipe that I am sure would wow her taste buds?
I hoard all these precious memories of her in the kitchen because this is where I remember her at her happiest. And after her death, it was breakfast that haunted me for months. The smell of fresh bacon, eggs and toast with orange juice, I woke up hungry every morning until one day it was gone. I didn’t notice it at the time. It faded like a memory in a way.
It wasn’t long after that I took on the task of learning how to cook. I was eleven years old and I had more than enough TV dinners to last me the rest of my life. So,here I am. Here’s to you, mom. I can finely eat bacon without crying. It’s a good day for a BLT.