DOWN THE ROAD A PIECE
By Jane D. Brown
My mother wasn’t always a good cook. Her talent didn’t emerge until after she left Long Island, where she has been a journalist for her father’s weekly newspaper.
In 1947 she placed a personal ad in the Saturday Review of Literature seeking a “literary correspondent,” who turned out to be my father. Mom had little idea what she’d signed up for when she moved a year later to her new husband’s dairy farm in Rising Sun, Maryland.
In those days any farmer’s wife had a long list of domestic duties that began with cooking three meals a day. In between she was expected to tend the vegetable garden, can and freeze produce, feed the barnyard flock, clean the house, and do the laundry with no dryer except the clothes line out back. In addition, my Mom was also the primary caregiver for three elderly relatives living on the farm and three children, including twin girls (one was me).
The Joy of Cooking, written by Irma Rombauer and acquired by Mom in 1948, became her culinary Bible. It’s an amazing compendium of hundreds of step-by-step recipes and advice on how to do just about everything related to cooking. There are sections that speak to those times (e.g., “cocktail parties” and “formal teas”), as well as how to use utensils of the day (e.g., paraffin, double boilers, pressure cookers). I love the “good luck” symbolism of the four-leaf clover Mom tucked between the food stained pages as she taught herself how to cook.
In my own Joy of Cooking (revised in 1973), I follow Mom’s habit of noting the dates and circumstances when she used specific recipes. In her book, a torn bit of paper towel marks the recipe for “Smothered Rabbit or Hare with Onions.” She made that meal at least five times when we were kids. We were trained to eat whatever she put in front of us, including the game our father and brother hunted in our fence rows and woods.
One of my favorite desserts was Lemon Meringue pie. According to Mom’s cookbook notes, she first made meringue in 1953. After she had perfected all the elements of that tricky pie, folks stood in line to get a piece when the Hospital Auxiliary sold baked goods at local farm auctions. Mom was the secretary for the Auxiliary. She was also known for writing the group’s annual report in verse.
I have sought the taste of Mom’s Lemon Meringue pie for years, to no avail. There’s nothing quite like it.
Recently, my granddaughter, Poppy Protzman, 10, knowing of my quest, suggested we give it a try. She has become an accomplished baker, for which I take some credit having begun making cookies with her when she was 3 years old.
We used Mom’s Joy of Cooking recipe even though I don’t own a double boiler. Poppy improvised with two of my saucepans. I remembered Mom’s tip: “absolutely no egg yolk in the whites and a very clean bowl, or the meringue won’t froth and peak.”
After spending much of the day working on this elaborate dessert, we were proud to present it to Poppy’s Mom. The crust was perfect, the meringue beautifully peaked, the golden custard delicious. Unfortunately, the filling was not the right consistency – more like pudding than a sliceable firmness. We’ll have to try again.
The process made me appreciate my mother even more. She took on the challenge of becoming a wife, mother and superb farm wife. She figured out how to make edible food from the garden, the farmyard, and even the woods. And then she perfected a difficult dessert, all the while entertaining local charities with poetry.
Here’s to amazing mothers everywhere.