by Kim on November 16, 2009

My mother cooked meals for our family for many years. She was creative – not by what she could do with the ingredients, but the way she fed our family of 7 with very little money. The pressure cooker was the key. She could put a small piece of a very cheap cut of beef in the pressure cooker and turn it into a delicious family meal. Most of the meals consisted of vegetables from our garden or fruit from our orchards. She re-created meals from her childhood – navy beans and cornbread (see: The Story Part of Family History) She tried every option for our apple from the orchard – fresh apples, apple pies, apple dumplings, fried apples, applesauce, apple cider, Waldorf salad, and apple butter.  She did love to bake and made blueberry cream cheese squares, strawberry Jello pie, orange jello dessert, chocolate mayonnaise cake, pineapple cookies, and zucchini bread, She grew tired of cooking meals for us however, and most meals were repeats from week to week. My dad told her, in a joking way at one meal, “Mary, you really put your heart into this one.”

My mother was the one that kept our household going. She took the ingredients of our life and made sense of things. We counted on her for our substance and she always came through. Dinner was always ready at 5pm, with enough food for 7 of us. When Dad was unemployed, she would scrape bye with what she had. When my Dad was working, she got up at 5am and made his lunch (pickle pimento with Colby cheese sandwiches on white bread, vegetable soup, carrots, and a thermos of coffee). She wrapped the sandwiches in wax paper, placed the warm soup in the short thermos and arranged it all neatly in his metal lunchbox. Her way of cooking was very matter-of-fact and orderly. We counted on her and she came through as expected.

Family Story

Dad helping with Thanksgiving dinner

In a time when most men didn’t cook, my dad was a foodie. He loved to put what little we had into a creative dish. Instead of looking for a recipe as my mother did, he created his own.  He used the Crock Pot to make peach and cherry bread pudding with the fruit that we grew on our property. He experimented to make soda bread from his childhood, finally getting it right to eat at night with jelly and milk. He was spontaneous, and risked making mistakes and being laughed at. His cooking was a perfect example of this. We used to watch him in the kitchen to see what would happen next. It might be entertaining, but waiting for the taste was the best part. My Dad was the fun one. He would take parts of our life and mix them together in ways they had never been put together before.

This was a dish that Dad would cook so he could clean out the refrigerator. He would take all the leftovers from the fridge and put them together with eggs, milk, onions and whatever spices fit the bill. Sometimes he would put A-1 sauce in it and always pepper and salt. He would put everything in a skillet & cook it until the eggs were done. There was usually 2 or 3 kinds of meat, sometimes mashed potatoes, vegetables and whatever else he could find. Amazingly it was very tasty. He called it “schlumgolian”. I’m not sure where the name came from, but it added to the mystery of the dish. We were naive enough to think that every family had schlumgolian made from leftovers.

My Dad would prepare his harvests from his garden (see:My Dad – the Original Organic Gardener),  in special ways. We always had pickled beets – with – eggs – in the refrigerator.  He prepared ground horseradish from home-grown horseradish roots to spice up his home-cooking. He used the crocks bought at auction to turn cabbage into sauerkraut in the basement. His vegetable soup was superb and I still remember how great it tasted – 28 years later.

Family Stories

A picnic for my High School Graduation - with potato salad

He became known at family reunions for his potato salad. It was creamy, crunchy, sweet from the homemade sweet pickle relish, and pungent from the freshly picked dill.  The flavors melded together, blending my father’s creativity and the garden’s freshness. His recipe for potato salad has been recorded and my sisters and I still make it for family gatherings. Both the taste and the process of chopping the ingredients as a family bring back great family memories.

Some of his creations didn’t turn out so well. Let me tell you about my father’s dandelion wine. He tried making wine from the grapes in his small grape harbor. It was tasty, but there weren’t enough grapes after canning grape jelly to make more than a bottle or two. He resolved to picking all the dandelions in the yard and following the recipe from an article in his organic gardening monthly newsletter. It was perplexing to see how weeds from our yard could become a tasty drink. Though I was only 14, I was allowed to taste it. And just as I still remember how great the vegetable soup was, I also remember the awful bitter taste of the dandelion wine. I shuddered profusely and spat it out. Thankfully that was the end of his resourceful wine-making ventures.

Dad taught me that you win some and you lose some – it’s not the end result that’s all that important. Instead, it’s the process of taking what you have and blending it together in creative ways  – with much enthusiasm and with people you love. Thanks Dad!

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