Only a handful of memories survive my earliest childhood days in 1960s Indiana: a pink farmhouse hidden among fields of corn; discovering Easter baskets still nestled in our parents’ bedroom closet before mass; the enormous flower garden where surely fairies hid. But brightest among these memories are the times my sister and I spent in the kitchen with our rather creative mom, still so young herself, in her mid-20s. Alone for hours on end with only her two preschool daughters, she let her imagination provide the stimulation, and it was no more readily apparent than in our meals.
Whether borne from sips of cooking sherry stolen while Dad worked or residual brain damage from sniffing gas fumes at her grandfather’s farm when she was a child, my wickedly inventive mother channeled her unique approach to life into every midday meal, uplifting it to adventure status. As she ladled steaming soup into our bowls, she regaled us with her evening exploits hunting the elusive Gumbo by moonlight, with our pet cat, Tigger Tom, leading the way, pulling her forward in his hay-rope harness. Together they wandered the farmhouse grounds and neighboring fields for our food, searching for their prey.
“What’s this?” I would ask, pointing to the green fleshy circles of something floating in the broth along with chicken bits, pushing it with my spoon.
“Innards,” she’d reply with a wink. “Cross sections actually,” she’d clarify, even as she tossed the empty cans of Campbell’s Chicken and Gumbo soup into the trash. “Colons, to be exact.”
Our tummies full, we’d roam the yard, searching through the flowers, poking sticks into holes, bracing ourselves for an onslaught of attacking Gumbo. As the afternoon sun wore down our resolve, we’d follow our noses into the kitchen, chasing a warm, spicy smell that made our mouths water. Once more confined to our booster seats around the speckled Formica kitchen table (with just a hint of chemical smell wafting out from, most likely, industrial glue), we’d be treated to glasses of chilled milk and Mom’s next tour de force. Warm, chewy cookies spotted with something dark and equally toothy were placed before us, and we’d dive in, stuffing our mouths as her story began.
“Tigger Tom and I worked all night to catch those," she’d say, grinning. "Fast, they are, and ornery too. A few came at me. I swear, it gets more and more difficult to make a batch of mole-asses cookies. I can hardly catch the moles.” Chuckling, she’d brush flour from her apron and slip the container of what I now know to be raisins back into the pantry. “Eat up, girls. Rigor mortis sets in when they cool down.”
At night I would lie in bed, listening for the sounds of Mom and Tigger Tom gearing up to do battle in the great outdoors. Silently I’d pray, hoping they’d catch more moles, wondering why she only used the Gumbo’s colons, knowing full well I could never ask her about her meatloaf.
Robin Winzenread Fritz is Adjunct Lecturer and Internship Coordinator, Divisions of Business and Liberal Arts, at Indiana University in Columbus. She can be found at www.robinwinzenread.com, on Twitter and Instagram. Her mother, age 77, is alive and well and still cooking.
Mom’s Mole-Asses Cookies
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 c. shortening
1/2 c. dark molasses
2 large eggs, beaten
1 T. baking soda
1/2 c. water
5 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. ground cloves
1 t. salt
1/2 c. raisins
In large bowl, mix sugar, shortening, molasses, and eggs until well blended.
In small bowl, dissolve baking soda in water; stir into molasses mixture.
Stir in remaining ingredients until well blended.
Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Lightly grease cookie sheet.
Scoop about a tablespoon of dough for each cookie, and drop onto cookie sheet.
Place cookies about 2 inches apart on cookie sheet.
Bake 8 - 10 minutes or until light brown.
Remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack.
Eat warm or, if icing with vanilla frosting, let cool completely, about 30 minutes.
(This is an old Betty Crocker recipe that my mother adapted years ago. The original recipe doesn’t call for raisins, and Mom never added the frosting, but feel free to make them your own.)