Mother's Day Special
Whether you're kissing, missing, or dissing her, enjoy our collection of anecdotes for this holiday.
My mother had a Russian mother and a Bubbie, and from them got her appetite and a robust love of robust food, but no love of cooking. Her favorite meal was steak Diane at the Drake Hotel, wearing a little black dress and squired by my stepfather.
One winter afternoon, she cooked a soup--a large pot of beef and barley soup. My stepfather—whose mother had never cooked either—was stunned by the notion of a steaming pot, out of which actual food was produced. Her cooking outfit was a black wool turtleneck. The combination of the turtleneck, the hot pot, and his beautiful wife stirring with a wooden spoon struck him as miraculous, even magnificent, and it became part of family lore.
We ate well in our family. We always had housekeepers, and my mother collected and edited recipes for them to prepare from Julia Child, Michael Fields, and the Silver Palette girls. But she often made us—me, my two sisters, and my stepfather—say what a good cook she was, and we always referred back to that winter Saturday to prove that she even made her own soup.
When I got married and moved away from home, I had never seen raw food before. My mother bought me The I Never Cooked Before Cookbook by Peg Bracken. And her housekeeper taught me how to overcook fish.
Cabbage balls were my mother’s labor of love, made with a sweet and spicy sauce and Uncle Ben’s rice. (My brother and I believed that the man on the box was our real Uncle Ben, a magnanimous favorite who indulged us with $10 bills whenever we saw him.)
Years later, I asked my mother how she made them, so I could propel the recipe down the generational line.
Sauté the onions. Add raisins. Separately, simmer the cabbage until tender. And then: Pour on two cans of Campbell’s tomato soup.
I was flabbergasted. My mother—the woman who instructed me to buy chopped meat only if I saw the butcher chop it, who squeezed and smelled fruits and vegetables at the greengrocer, who made cakes and bread from scratch—used canned soup.
I have her original 3x5 card with the recipe in her handwriting, but I've never made the cabbage balls. It’s enough to remember this childhood symbol of love at the table.
When my mom Jenny cooked, especially on Sundays, family seemed to show up from everywhere. If ravioli were on the menu, my brother Bill and I would hide them in the oven so guests did not know she made them.
One day I made ravioli with her and wrote down everything she did and said in order to save the perfect recipe. Then I encased the handwritten recipe in shipping tape so it would last forever.
Bill and I keep the tradition alive, making the perfect "ravs" and passing on the love of cooking to our children. Mom’s secret ingredients were cinnamon, sugar, and finely ground breadcrumbs, mixed with the ricotta cheese to stretch the filling and make it less "wet."
Every day that I cook now, I feel my mother’s presence, and I know that if there’s ricotta and olive oil in heaven, she’s probably cooking pasta. I’m learning Italian now and plan to visit the homeland next year. She never made it there.
---Lorraine Puz Morgan
I am an immigrant from Jamaica—I came to the United States with my three daughters 21 years ago. Growing up in the kitchen with my stepmom wasn't a fun experience. She was a very good cook but also very strict. My cousins used to come around without being invited just to get a sense of what was being prepared—often curried goat, rice and peas, fried chicken, or jerked pork. But if she taught me something once, I was expected to retain it, or else the huge wooden spoon would tell on me. As a result, I'm able to make my family some of the best meals ever. And in my kitchen the cooking spoon has been retired.
Breakfast in bed and planting pansies–that was Mother’s Day in my home. My father scrambled the eggs, and my sisters and I arranged a tray for Mom with the nice silverware (which only came out on special occasions), coffee in a good china cup, and two pieces of buttered toast.
It was really a day of reckoning: We were, if not ungrateful, mostly unconscious about the care and feeding of a family of five that was my mother’s responsibility the rest of the year. Banned from her own kitchen, her face softened with pleasure and relaxation, all of us gathered on the bed beside her, careful not to spill her orange juice. I hope my memory is accurate in thinking that we didn’t leave her with a sink full of dishes.
The day before Mother’s Day, my mom always went to the plant nursery and bought a flat of pansies. As soon as she finished her breakfast in bed, she headed out to the small sloping rock garden on the side of our house. Planting pansies was her Mother’s Day ritual, the true arrival of spring. For her, it meant gardening through to the next fall. For me, it meant the start of badminton season and the bell of the Good Humor truck coming down the street.
It’s true that Marilyn Monroe appeared as Miss Cheesecake of 1953, showing her affection for the Los Angeles Farmers Market at the grand opening of Michael's Cheesecake stall.
But no one was more committed to the Market than my Mom—it was her favorite place to buy the fresh produce that she cooked for our dinners, and to meet her best friend for a coffee and pastry. It was her daily routine, sometimes including an extra: me.
Although I do not go to the market regularly, I do have a coffee at Starbucks almost every day, and I now realize that my ritual is also a visit with Mom.
After my mother died, someone told me that every year on my birthday, I should buy myself a piece of jewelry as a present from my mom. I have enough jewelry, and hardly wear what I already own. (For a long time, one of my best friends would drag me into dressing rooms to try on fancy clothes with the encomium, "This would look great on your little body," tempting me to buy a wardrobe for a life I do not have. I'm over it.)
But that first birthday without my mom, she bought me an All-Clad stainless steel saucepan. The following year she bought me the 12-inch frying pan, and every year since then she has contributed to my battery of cookware. Kitchen jewelry.
It's always the perfect gift.
---Aimee Lee Ball
When I was finally old enough—about the age my eight-year-old daughter is now—I started making breakfast in bed for my mom on Mother’s Day. It was nothing fancy at first: burnt toast with jam perhaps. (My husband once made his mother breakfast when he was a young boy, too: a raw egg in a bowl. Nice.)
Eventually, I got a bit fancier, crafting bowls out of grapefruit, trying my hand at omelets with gourmet fillings, and eventually settling on Eggs Benedict, a dish that Mom had perfected herself years earlier.
Oh, how I’d love to make it for my mother one more time.
I grew up in New Orleans, the Big Easy, and a gastronomic wonderland. (A digression: Locals attribute the nickname to a gossip columnist from the hometown newspaper, who used the term to compare life in New York City—the Big Apple. To me, it’s like a joyous smile hiding a mystery.)
Each month my mom (my lifelong best friend) and I looked forward to the arrival of Gourmet magazine. We devoured the pages together, imagining tastes and aromas, anticipating the dish that might (not so) magically appear on our dining room table, whether it was she or our cook at the stove.
At one point, she enrolled us in a series of cooking classes by the celebrated Southern chef Christopher Blake. I still have the recipe card in her handwriting for the perfect French onion soup. (Just be patient and cook those onions 'till they're golden brown.) She always wanted to enhance her skills and, at least equally important, she wanted to ensure that my future husband, whenever that was to be, would find pleasure in my culinary offerings, not just my Southern charms.