Feeding family comes full circle

My mom was not the best cook in the world. She wasn’t the worst, either.
She made my favorite dish of baked macaroni and cheese and lots of cake mix cakes. I filched plenty of homemade chocolate chip cookies off the brown paper sacks she used for cooling the hot cookies. The barren grease spots on the paper snitched on me.
She could quickly put together a heap of food to feed her family. Plenty of times my dad decided at the last minute to take us on a picnic for lunch. Mom whipped up Jell-O salad, macaroni salad and tuna fish salad before we were fully awake.
When she fixed a meal, she assumed we would eat it. One of my siblings once reflected, “I never quite developed a taste for her Spanish rice.” Come to think of it, neither did I. It looked like rice cooked in tomato juice and tasted about as interesting. But, we ate it because mom made it and there would not be anything else prepared just to satisfy our delicate taste buds.
We learned to be thankful for what we had. And what we had occasionally was baked fish – filets of fish laid out in a loaf pan, lightly dusted with flour and baked with salt, pepper and milk. I tried it a couple times when I had my own kitchen, but I found I preferred baked fish without the milk.
When we were sick, she offered us foods gentle on the stomach. Foods like poached eggs and toast with hot milk on top. I never made it for my children – not even when they raged with fever. That’s odd, because under intense stress, I head for the kitchen to heat some milk, toast some bread, lather it with butter, arrange it in a bowl and douse it with the hot milk then sit down and eat all of it.
I remember fondly her ski-slope birthday cakes: Two-layers of cakes, precariously perched on top of each other, held it together with toothpicks and frosting. In January, in one short week, she made three ski slope cakes: One for me, one for my older brother and one for my youngest sister. After blowing out the candles, the birthday child ceremoniously cut the cake into eight pieces and handed everyone a plate of cake and then served the extra piece to themselves. Only the toothpicks remained.
For many years, we lived on dairy farms. Mom served what she had on hand. Beef that Dad butchered (we all helped prepare it for the freezer), milk from the dairy cows and potatoes from the fields on the other side of the county. For many years, those potatoes came to the farm in grandpa’s pick-up truck with a homemade wooden cover in back that allowed him room to stand as he loaded and unloaded produce.
Mom used the milk and potatoes in corn chowder and green bean soup. Sometimes she served a boiled supper of beef and potatoes with gravy. If we wanted mashed potatoes with that gravy we had a fork.
During the teenage years of watching our weight, my dad, the dairy farmer, still insisted we drink milk – every night – for supper. My sister made sure her place had a glass of water with just enough milk to pass inspection.
Periodically, Mom made us a healthy meal of liver.
I hated it. Hated it so much that I figured if my sis could get away with cloudy water, I could do away with my liver. I cut it up into small pieces and casually slid them off my plate to the floor. It didn’t work the same as cloudy water.
I did fix liver for my family. I quickly decided they would survive without it. Recently my daughter showed me how much she missed eating liver. She took a dish of chicken livers and ate them right in front of my grimacing face.
She and her brothers are already assembling stories about their mom – who was not the best cook in the world, but she wasn’t the worst, either. The circle does come full round.
(Joan Hershberger is a reporter at the News-Times. E-mail her at jhershberger@eldoradonews.com.)