Unlike many people raised these days, my mother (who forbade us from calling her the formal title of “mother”) stayed home to raise us, made dinner every night, and frequently baked extra treats or tried new recipes. We are requested to name a location and generation for this prompt; so I’ll say that I was “cooking with Mum” when we lived in Ridgecrest, CA and for most of my childhood outside of Salt Lake City, Utah (both in the United States). I consider myself both a Generation X and Y member.
I was always encouraged to help my mom in the kitchen. Perhaps, at my earliest memories, this was more of a “help,” than actual assistance, but I never recall her pushing me away or telling me not to bother her.
In fact, I know this was the norm even from toddling age. I remember reading over a cookbook in her collection compiled and printed by my first preschool teacher. As a child, I remember finding the page with the recipe I’d submitted: Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, and thinking of how they were my favorite to make with her. I would have been three years old when it was printed.
My mom loves to try new things, and that was reflected in her cooking and baking. (That’s another thing -I never knew the two were separate classifications till recently because we did both, in equal measures.) She had cookbooks, yes -but also folders and a terribly-messy plastic container full of magazine clippings of myriad recipes.
My parents always insisted on us hand-making Mother’s or Father’s Day presents. In keeping with that tradition, my sister and I decided to tackle THE BOX of recipes one year. We were newlywed adults at the time, and probably could have gotten away with bending the rules due to age -but thought it would be great to finally have them all organized.
It. Took. Hours.
There is no way I would be able to complete such a task now, with my own family and a large house to maintain. We clipped recipes joined at the page, photocopied the backsides, and typed up handwritten ones with dubious titles and barely-legible handwriting. Then, we organized them by categories and alphabetized them and completely burned out at the idea of typing up tables of contents.
A surprising upside to this venture was that I made copies of my childhood favorites for my personal recipe collection. I’m smart, though; mine are kept in an expandable folder thing. I even have a couple of copies of my mother’s mother’s recipe cards (remember cards?!).
Another traditional activity associated with Mom and cooking was Christmas cookies. This is a bit of a baking/cooking crossover because most of the recipes were baked. I’m not going to classify something like Rice Krispies Treats as baking, however, and we frequently made a no-bake Corn Flake Kisses cookie that is similar to those gooey cereal bars.
Just before Christmas every year that I can remember, we would mix and bake at least four varieties of cookies or bars. Besides helping, our job as children was to deliver finished plates to all the neighbors. Each plate had several samples of each of the four or so varieties of baked/cooked goodies. Some neighbors reciprocated; though most did not hand-make their gifts to us.
This was an activity much like childbirth: I didn’t appreciate how much work my mother went through till I did it myself.
I have tried to continue this Christmas tradition. I even get my boys involved; they sincerely love cooking and baking with me as I did with my mom. However, I cannot get through the holiday event without shaving a recipe or two from my agenda and/or screaming in frustration at some thing that invariably delays production.
I only remember loving all the cookies and making it all happen with my mom, so hopefully that’s what my own kids are retaining.
Perhaps my mom found the tenacity to persevere because desserts have always been her favorite to make. She even bought a cookbook titled The All-Butter Fresh Cream Sugar-Packed No-Holds-Barred Baking Book. Truth be told, it ended up being one of those that you leaf through, decide you’d better not make anything inside, and stick back on the shelf.
The picture I included waaaay up at the top is an image of my Betty Crocker cookbook, turned to the page on how to make pancakes. I can’t remember where my red cookbook came from, but I do know I thought it imperative that I own one. This is because the main source of recipes for us growing up was my mother’s red Betty Crocker cookbook.
Every time we wanted to make pancakes, we’d pull the book down and let it fall open on the counter. It was always on the page we wanted, through years of training. That, and there was enough spilled and splattered pancake batter to weight them down. We could barely make out the ingredients, so it was a good thing we knew the recipe so well.
In looking over my own well-loved page, I can’t help but feel proud to have inadvertently continued that tradition in my own family. We may not be quite as blotched-out as my mom’s pancake recipe, but we’re getting there.