Congratulations to our five winners: Carol L., Pam S., Leland P., Lauren Y. and Tonja R.! We received such an overwhelming number of colorful home cooking memories that we couldn’t resist including three honorable mentions: Susan D., Rebecca C., and Colleen N. Thanks to all who participated for sharing your stories!
From Leland P. in Oklahoma:
“One thing that I will never forget growing up: My dad grew up living in the country during the great depression, and thus a lot of their meals depended upon what wild game was brought home from hunting. Growing up, I accompanied Dad hunting every chance we got, and he still enjoyed some of the, in some eyes, unusual meats.
“Well one time we’d bagged a squirrel. Now, my mom learned to cook from my grandmother on my dad’s side, and had never fried a squirrel. She came into the kitchen and lifted the lid to the big skillet to check on things, not realizing that inside frying was the skinned squirrel, but with the head still on staring back up at her. Apparently after it’s fried, you crack the skull and also eat the brains. I remember her screaming and throwing the skillet lid one direction and running from the kitchen in the other, and Grandma wondering what the hell was wrong.”
From Pam S.:
“Closing my eyes and breathing in, I can remember the smell of soda bread and I am immediately transported back to my granny’s kitchen in South Belfast. Helping her make the sticky dough was a mix of pleasure and ‘ugh’ as the dough trapped my fingers together and inserted itself in my nails. A light dusting of flour helped that and then we would wait as the soda cooked in the gas oven which warmed the small kitchen.
“Soda bread was a staple of my childhood in Northern Ireland and it reminds me of the people. It’s fairly plain and uncomplicated, but dresses up well with the addition of accessories (currants, bacon, butter). It’s comforting and easy and crosses all divides. Warm soda bread with its golden crust and a mug of tea can make me feel like I’m at home, even when I’m thousands of miles away.”
From Carol L. in Florida:
“I loved America the moment we moved to Poplar Street in 1960. We were the only Cubans, but we were surrounded by a whole new world of people. Lenny Schwartz’s grandmother made latkes, smaltz sandwiches and matzo brei and on Saturdays someone’s Nonna always sent us for a freshly killed chicken, which somehow made it into the wedding soup or cacciatore we ate after school on Monday.
“Jackie Lee’s father had been a doctor in China, but ran the local laundry three doors down. He made bird’s nest soup for my tenth birthday and taught me to always look for the best things in the market before deciding what was for dinner. He taught us both proper tea service. I still do as he told me.
“My mother hated cooking, still does; but my neighborhood taught me the joys of food and spawned a lifelong love of food and travel.”
From Tonja R. in Louisiana:
“One of my earliest and fondest memories is that of the boucherie at my mo mo and paw paw’s house. All family members would participate. Stations were set up between the butchering table and my great grandmother’s house. J.B. (who worked for my grandparents in their grocery store) would handle the frying of the cracklins. I remember the huge black iron pot over a mountain of hot coals. He would fry the pig skin until crispy, then drain on paper bags in a wheel barrel and dust them with his special seasoning. My mo mo showed me how to rinse out the casing for boudin, while inside the house, a hand-cranked meat grinder turned out worm-like tendrils of pork into an old #10 galvanized steel tub. Eventually, I would make my way back to J.B. and those spicy hot cracklins. Holding out the bottom of my dress, I would wait for a scoop. Then off to the Kumquat tree. I still love the flavor combination: pop in a cracklin, then a Kumquat. Cracklin. Kumquat…”
From Lauren Y. in California:
“My dad’s family is very Chinese, and to those who don’t know that means buying crab already dead from the supermarket is simply not done. No, it has to be live crab from the Chinese grocery store down the street. And the best part? Dragging it out of the cooler by its hind legs in order to boil it. We make the curry at the same time that it’s cooking, so the house smells like seafood and hot spices. But you need to stir the meat in with the curry just so. My grandma’s hands are wrinkled but delicate as they toss the spices in, and as she leans over carefully measuring things out she tells me, ‘Now not too much or it will be too spicy.’ I can smell the familiar scent of chinese spices and moth balls. It’s a good scent, it means love and good food.”
From Rebecca C. in Tennessee:
“Salt risen bread and an old hen. The key ingredients to my grandmother’s signature Sunday dish: chicken and dressing. My best ‘home cooking memory’ is of my grandmother standing in her kitchen, clothed in her Sunday best with uprolled sleeves and apron, mashing together bits of salt risen bread, corn bread and saltine crackers with an old potato masher. To this she added sage, celery, eggs and chicken broth to create a soggy, unsightly paste which she slathered all over the roasted hen. As soon as it emerged from the oven, it became prey to our vulture-like fingers, ‘picking the chicken’ as we called it to find the perfect piece—warm, slightly browned and crunchy on top, soft on the underside. This chicken and dressing is an integral part of our family: after four generations, it remains the most requested meal when we ‘come home.’”
From Colleen N. in Ohio:
“My mom always made her Grandma Mitasky’s Ham and Bean Soup for Christmas Eve, which in itself was tradition: After fasting all day long for vigil as Catholic tradition dictated in our small town, they broke it after midnight mass with that hearty soup. Simple and tasty, we kept up the family ritual of the meal every Christmas eve, and my sisters and brother would moan and complain about it. (Picky eaters.) When they reached their teen years, they decided to hide Mom’s Navy Beans jar in wrapping paper ‘neath the tree. During a work holiday party, an elderly friend knocked it out from the hiding place and my sisters slunk away under the cover of laughter. The cane had torn the paper, and their ham was hocked. Mom nearly peed herself laughing because she hadn’t been able to find it in time for Christmas Eve dinner.”
From Susan D.:
“The blintz: a spoonful or two of sweet cheese wrapped around a delicate crepe and fried lightly in butter until gold-speckled. We ate them with apple sauce at Shavuot, the late-spring holiday my family did not religiously observe because the grandparents were socialists. But I looked forward every year to the holiday nonetheless because my mother made them so well. For years, I would ask her for the recipe only to be told that her mother had never written it down. Some flour, some eggs, some farmer’s cheese, sugar, and butter, she would answer blithely: making blintzes involved following your instincts. One day, years later, when my head and house were full of children, I insisted Mom give me the recipe. She sat down, opened the long-closed memory of her mother’s kitchen, and picked up the pencil.”