In my mother’s kitchen, there was always a gallon jug of Aloha Shoyu and a 100 lb. bag of calrose rice in the cupboard; garlic, ginger, toasted sesame seeds and green onions in the fridge, and papayas and bananas on the counter.
The middle child of 12 and second oldest daughter, Margaret was known in the family for her good Korean food, a style of cooking she learned from her mother and continued to develop through decades of practice. She never used written recipes for the Korean dishes, magically turning out batches of kimchi and other banchan, platters of bulgogi, kalbi, jap chae, shrimp and vegetable jhun, and bowls of mandu with the studied efficiency and honed techniques of a master chef.
Though she had a hutch full of English bone china, I think she valued most the set of stainless steel pots and pans she once purchased from a door-to-door salesman when I was 9 or 10. “Don’t ever give these away when I’m gone,” she reminded my brother and me repeatedly. “They don’t make cookware like this anymore.” She was right of course. Those pieces served her well for over 50 years and thousands of meals.
Loving those pots and pans says a lot about my mother. Unlike me, she usually opted for practical over pretty. And unlike me, she was more a cook than a baker — a cook guided by instinct who measured ingredients with the eye. Like the speaker in Hope Anita Smith’s poignant poem, “My Mother’s Kitchen,” I, too, wish I had paid closer attention, lingered and asked questions.
Say what you will about professional chefs and fancy restaurants; nothing compares to a mother’s home-cooked food, the way it feeds us physically and emotionally. Made with pure love and served with generous sides of comfort and reassurance, it always contains that special secret ingredient of knowing just what a child needs.
MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN
by Hope Anita Smith
My aunt sings in the kitchen,
tries to woo food into tasting good.
She serves up “mystery meals” and waits
for us to pass judgment.
We all “Mmmmm” together
and raise our eyebrows ever so slightly,
hoping the gesture will act as a lever
to open our throats,
allow Aunt Nedra’s
home cooking to pass through.
My mother could cook.
I could smell how much she loved me
every time she prepared a meal.
She shopped at the same market,
brought home the same ingredients,
but between the bag and the pot
It was as if each item — potatoes,
tomatoes, green beans —
wanted to be more just to please her.
I wish I’d stood beside her in the kitchen,
my head resting against her hip,
committing her recipes to memory.
The “secret” ingredients.
The ones that couldn’t be written down
because it wasn’t about measurement.
But I only stayed long enough to
lick the spoon,
kiss the cook,
let my finger skate along the icing wall of
My mother would smile or laugh,
squeeze me tight,
offer up a kitchen secret.
I was too busy for cooking instruction.
I breathed in the scent of my mother
mingled with the smells from her kitchen,
an intoxicating aroma.
“Tomorrow. Tomorrow I will pay attention.”
So many dishes are a disappointment to
Something is always missing.
Something I can’t quite put my finger on.
Sad that secrets can’t be passed on
from the grave,
and sadder, still, that I now know what it
to be hungry.
~ from Mother Poems (Henry Holt, 2009). All rights reserved.
Here’s a wonderful video of Hope reading her poem:
♥ A MOTHER’S DAY TREAT ♥
Margaret didn’t make many desserts, but she sure loved to eat them. She sent me this recipe for Blueberry Cream Cheese Pie shortly after I moved to Virginia years ago. It was one of those popular recipes making the rounds in Hawai’i, frequently appearing at family potluck dinners. If you opt for a pre-made graham cracker crust, there’s no baking required at all. The hardest part of this recipe is waiting for the pie to chill before eating it. I think Margaret would have liked a big piece for Mother’s Day. 🙂
♥ BLUEBERRY CREAM CHEESE PIE ♥
- 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 8 oz. heavy or whipping cream
- 1- 21 oz. can blueberry pie filling
- 1 pre-baked pie shell (or 1 graham cracker pie crust)
Beat the cream cheese with the sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Set aside.
In another bowl, beat the heavy cream until stiff peaks form.
Fold the cream cheese mixture into the whipped cream. Pour into pre-baked pie shell.
Top with blueberry pie filling and chill several hours before serving.
♥ Several years ago, I asked Margaret to write down the recipes for some of the Korean dishes she made for New Year’s. You can find them in this post.
Did you cook with your mother when you were growing up? Which of your Mom’s recipes is your favorite?
Poetry Goddess Sylvia Vardell is hosting the Roundup at Poetry for Children. Sashay on over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week.
🌺 HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! 🌺
This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your aprons and bibs and come join the fun!
Copyright © 2016 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.