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Yo Mama: kitchen train-wreck or kitchen saint?

A lot of posters seem to have had mothers who were really bad cooks, who hated cooking, or came up with exceptionally weird food. Some have mentioned that Mom was so disinterested in cooking and that they started to do the all cooking at age seven. Other Moms got sidetracked and dead-ended by canned and convenience foods. Although others than appeared maxed out at opening a can of cat food. Mom's cooking has engendered threads about “weird dishes found only in your family”, “atrocious casseroles” (e.g., banana and chicken liver), and the worst stuff your Mom made. Most of these posters are clearly satisfied that they overcame such childhood deprivation to become Hounds and cooks. But NO THANKS to MOM!

But my mom and aunts were from scratch, multi-cuisine, no canned or prepared foods, great cooks, foragers, and bakers. I’m a pretty good cook, but not as good as Mom was.

Was your Mom a kitchen train-wreck or kitchen saint?

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  1. Total train wreck except when it came to getting ice out of the trays for cocktails. She was also pretty good at opening up cans of Planters mixed nuts to go along with those.

    1. Mostly a train wreck, canned vegetables, meat in a pressure cooker, and mashed potatoes every night for dinner. Slice of "boiled ham" on white bread for school lunch every day for years. Dad's cooking was more interesting, roasted beef heart, beef tongue, kidneys, liver and onions.

      1. My mother and aunts were the Italian version of your mother and aunts, Sam. There was nothing she couldn't, or wouldn't at least try, to cook. She was adventurous and had an excellent cookbook library, although most of what she cooked she must have grown up eating in Italy and in the early days here in Boston. Her mother was a fantastic cook and each of her four sisters were too Each had her own specialty and were very competitve about them. The odd thing is that they all married men who were very good cooks too.

        Even though they were professional people with time consuming jobs they managed to produce wonderful family dinners every night. We wouldn't think of saying no to anything any of them cooked. They were my standard then, they are my kitchen saints now.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Gio

          Joe, always wondered why you and I think so much alike. Now I know.

        2. My mom's not a terrible cook, but not particularly good. However, my aunt (who lives with us) is a great cook so she got bumped out of the kitchen.... and even now, I still hear complaints from both about the other :(

          1. Mom was Irish on both sides & came from a long line of bad cooks. To make matters worse, Dad worked as a butcher. He'd bring home some beautiful pork chops & Mom would cook them until the NHL logo came up. One of the few things that brought tears to his eyes.

            1. my mum is a great cook and always was except for desserts which we mostly always laughed at and are the family joke. Think crunchy pastry and pie dough, undercooked apples in the pie, flat cakes unless from a package, but anything savoury and she is a gem.

              1. My sainted mother was a fantastic baker and a good cook. I have never been able to make a piecrust that remotely approached hers - you could see the flaky layers when you cut into it with your fork. She used lard and had cold hands, to which she attributed her pastry prowess. I baked with her from the time I was 4 and got my own little piece of piecrust to make into a jam pasty for my great-uncle who lived with us. As far as cooking was concerned, she was a very good serviceable meat potatoes and 2 veg cook - my family (English-Irish Canadian) didn't truck much with "foreign" food and spices, rice was only for pudding, etc. Her Yorkshire pudding (batter pudding to my English dad) was legendary. Since my father insisted on the best possible meat and produce, my mother had good stuff to work with.

                2 Replies
                1. re: buttertart

                  I’m beginning to think we might be “long-lost siblings” too! You’ve described your mother as I would mine, with the exception of the Yorkshire pudding.

                  She is a phenomenal baker and excellent cook. She was always interested in new recipes and ingredients. She never strayed far from the traditional, but she prepared such a variety of meals week after week after week and nothing ever got worn out, ie: “Meat loaf again?!”

                  Also, she’s always kept fresh fruit and vegetables in the fridge.

                  1. re: cuccubear

                    My mother had a basic repertoire but didn't venture far into new recipes and so forth - and most of her cooking was not from recipes, it was received knowledge from her grandmother and great-aunt, with whom she lived growing up (mother died when she was 2, father when she was 10), and practice. She baked from recipes and would try a new one every so often, finding them in "ladies' magazines" (especailly good: Peg Bracken's column in ? Family Circle?, excellent oatmeal cookies among others) )and the local newspaper, backs of packages, from friends, etc.
                    My mother-in-law (to this day at the age of 86 a very good cook and another fabulous baker) is more adventurous in trying new things, ingredients, etc but is a strictly by-the-book cook, 1960s Good Housekeeping/BH&G/lately Taste of Home primarily. I think it still upsets my husband slightly when I wing something.

                2. TRAIN WRECK-----
                  My mother was known for her SALT Soup (chicken soup made from a box mix) Yech

                  Meatloaf even the dog wouldn't eat


                  Blackened Chicken, NO not New Orleans style, but broiled until a char developed where the skin used to be.

                  She was an excellent baker. She won awards for her cheesecake that had a top with the consistency of a pineapple meringue

                  Seasonally, she made a fantasic Italian Prune/Plum cake. Pretty damn good for a German/Jewish lady from the Bronx.

                  Her best effort in the Kitchen, Picking up the phone and making reservations.

                  We had a set supper menu based on the day of the week:
                  Monday-London Broil w/green beans
                  Tuesday-Lamb chops w/mashed potatoes or
                  Veal Cops breaded and fried with spaghetti-alternate weeks
                  Wednesday-Out to supper as a family
                  Thursday-Chinese Takeout, then she went to play Mah Jongg
                  Friday-Blackened chicken with rice-a roni and broccoli
                  Saturday-Deli for the kids, Mom and dad went out for the evening
                  Sunday-Lunch out as a family, then Apizza or cookout for supper

                  Minor seasonal variations and holiday meals. Mom claimed she was a company cook, but if there were more than 12 it was catered.

                  My mother and father are now 87 and live in Florida. My mother has not cooked in 10 years, she buys prepared food and heats..........OR eats out

                  1. My mom spent her formative years on the run, so she did not really start to cook until she married, and then it was Cuisine Misere of WW2. I still have some of the books like 200 tasty potato recipes because even flour was in short supply. Once in the States she learned from others. Going to have coffee in the afternoon was the main social thing, and you had to present home baked goods. She was willing to try anything so we had the Austrian pastries, but also the American pies and angel food cakes, and then taking classes she became the local baklava queen. The savory aspect followed along. My dad was a butcher and the meat was plentiful. She served it simply for the most part, and worked on her sides including salads. My sis and I have been searching for her spinach salad dressing for years and can't find it. She got it from a SCE (Southern California Edison) class touting the wonders of all electric homes. We had gas and so did her friends (they hated electric stoves), but they took the classes and we had beef and cheese fondue, bacon wrapped dates stuffed with waterchesnut, etc.

                    As the first generation in the US we were encouraged to study and stay out of the kitchen because that was not going to lead to success. As a result we have had to work backwards to recreate some of the dishes.

                    1. Mine was not a good cook and did not enjoy cooking, but my paternal grandmother who lived down the street was an amazing cook. She took simple ingredients and magically transformed them into amazing food. Nothing fancy or "gourmet", just incredibly good food. To this day, sometimes I drool thinking about her meatballs, potato fritattas, spinach with garlic and lentil soup.

                      1. My Mom is more to the side of Mother Teresa than Casey Jones. We had several Craig Claiborne books, The New York Times Recipe book, And of course Mastering the Art etc. Dinners would range from simple pot roasts and "essigfleisch" (sp?) to Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic and the occasional Lobsterfest. My dad became quite the baker in his later years and still makes Bialys, bagels and breads. I've just turned him on to the joys of pizza...got him a stone and a peel for Dad's Day. He turns 87 tomorrow!! Naturally, being the ungrateful child that I was, I didn't appreciate it till I was out of the house and had to fend for myself. I used to love helping my mom w/ the shopping and cooking, but I was the picky eater from hell. Lived on tunafish and baloney sandwiches for many years of my yute. Now, I pretty much like everything (except olives and cukes...) adam

                        1. My mother was definitely not a train wreck but far from haute cuisine either. But I think she was a product of the times and her upbringing. She was born in 1917 so came of age in the Depression. Her mother was extremely frugal -- would scrape the char off burnt toast. We weren't poor but we weren't rich either. I grew up in the 50s and 60s in Atlanta and I think that alone should explain a lot. Many things came out of a can but, ya know, that was a pretty glam item at the time. But also lots of from scratch, good Southern cooking. Pork roasts, hams, fried chicken, collards, black-eyed peas, the BEST biscuits, an incredible "brownie pie" (the consistency is between a brownie and fudge) and a meatball and spaghetti dish that I just loved. I have NO complaints although I learned not much of anything from her. But as a family we loved food and enjoyed coming together as a family over meals. I was lucky that both sides of my family lived in Atlanta so we ALL would get together. So in summary, a kitchen saint of her own sort.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: c oliver

                            My mother (b. 1918) scraping burnt toast used to drive my father nuts. Just throw out the GD toast, Marjorie!!! (He had issues with his mother, who did that all the time.) Depression habits persisted throughout her life.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              Any chance you have a recipe for that brownie pie? I think I can imagine just what you're talking about --- and now I want some! LOL!

                              1. re: foxy fairy

                                You betcha!

                                FRANCES OLIVER'S BROWNIE PIE

                                6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
                                1/2 C butter
                                1 C sugar
                                2 eggs
                                1/2 C sifted flour
                                1/4 t salt
                                1 C coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
                                1/2 t vanilla

                                Melt chocolate over hot water. Cream butter. Add sugar gradually, cream well. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each. Sift in flour and salt; beat again. Mix in nuts, melted chocolate and vanilla. Pour into greased 9" pie plate. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Cool. Top with ice cream or wipped cream.

                                It will "poof" up while baking but then collapse afterwards with almost a crust on the top. This is incredibly rich so tiny slices are usually all anyone can eat. I also fix it in a square pan if I want to take something sweet to a potluck. I am a MAJOR non-dessert eater and this is the ultimate but I love it. I used to ask for it as my birthday cake equivalent.

                            2. My mom did the best she could do with 5 kids, 20 bucks a week, and a husband who showed up a few times a month, not for wholesome reasons. Lots of tuna casserole. 2 ice cubes max in the kool-aid. Deviled ham sandwiches for school lunch were cut with hard boiled eggs, otherwise baloney or chicken loaf. Any wild fruit we could scavange she worked miracles with. Her boiled/mashed/strained currants with club soda was an original. Good meatloaf sandwiches. Sometimes powdered milk. That's all she could do. I hope in her twilight years I get another chance to arrange a "wow" meal for her. A good mom with trying circumstances.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Veggo

                                A good Mom with obviously an appreciative Son. Mothers can only do with what is available to them. What's special, Veggo, is that you remember her effort with love. That "Any wild fruit we could scavange she worked miracles with. Her boiled/mashed/strained currants with club soda was an original" says it all.

                                1. re: Gio

                                  Thanks, Gio. And we had the biggest crabapple tree in the world, with several tree forts in it, with rope ladders, but there's only so much crabapple jelly a family needs. In late summer I would have to rake up hundreds of pounds of drops before I could mow that section of lawn. It was spectacularly pleasant when it was blooming in spring. It made the whole house smell good until the lilacs bloomed.

                                  1. re: Veggo

                                    Thanks for reminding me of my grandmother's crabapple tree. I haven't thought about that tree in decades. I found it amazing that this tree growing in a city backyard actually produced fruit - it blew me away, it was like magic.

                                    My mom, for the record, was a great cook thanks, in large part I'm sure, to her Italian ancestory. She was first generation and was always whipping up something delicious. Nothing exotic, but most of it fresh and nutritious. She passed away when I was just 13 yrs old, but I know that she gave me my passion for food & cooking. Her fried zucchini was second to none and I have yet to master it. I stood by the stove waiting for her breaded veal cutlets w/ lemon and spaghetti w/ oil and garlic. This was the meal I requested every year for my birthday. Oh, and her Brooklyn cheese puffs, yum. :)

                              2. Middle of the road - never thought too much about it growing up, but as I got older I realized how bland a lot of the food was. It was not awful, and some things were quite good. But I do like more spices and flavor. I also use real butter and salt - two things she shied away from. Now I shudder at the artificial ingredients in her fridge & pantry - things she believes are "healthier".

                                1. With all possible affection, Kitchen Train Wreck.

                                  No cleaning up until the very end plus disastrously messy habits have horrified me for years. I think I am all about being her opposite in the kitchen. She will put stir spoons on the counter or stove. I'll put a small dish under them, and she will actually take the dish away and put the spoon back on the counter in the gooey mess she left behind.

                                  She also really only had a few good pots, choosing to use 50 year old Revere Ware for most of her cooking (lately it has been cheap non-stick everything). Hence, my highly developed appreciation for the finest and most expensive kitchen gear (Just joking, I learned to cook with her pots). At least I know you don't need a $400 pot to make something good.

                                  Don't even let me get started on her "pantry"

                                  It doesn't mean we don't love her. It just means that we follow her around with a sponge and spray bottle when we come to visit.

                                  As for her cooking, she took a 1960's detour toward canned everything and stayed there for the most part. She is the exact opposite of my grandmother, who was the original Italian family cook who taught me how to cook and organize my kitchen. I think she went 180 degrees in the opposite of her mother's direction, and well, we all know my obsessions on this board, so you see how this happens.

                                  1. My Mom is/was a very good cook, only occasionally got burned out cooking for us all and tried to go on strike, until other people messing around in her kitchen go to be too much for her. I think she had taken a class or two with Julia Child in Napa Valley in the early 70's. My father's predilection for imported meats and cheeses, as well as gardening and winemaking certainly contributed to a culinarily rich household.

                                    It's sort of funny/sad now, she is still a good cook but it seems like these days she is more interested if fast and simple. I guess there is nothing really wrong with the occasional Costco roast chicken - she doesn't buy many other prepared foods and does still try the occasional interesting recipe from Gourmet or some new cookbook from the library.

                                    1. My Mom was in the middle, but leaning toward saint. She grew up in a household where my Grandma made macaroni (we never called it "pasta") from scratch, baked cookies, braciole, sauces, etc. etc. etc. So my Mom learned from that, but jettisoned the more labor intensive stuff. She never made macaroni from scratch, but she did get up early on Saturdays to get the meat fried, so that she could pull it out and get the all-day sauce going. She cooked a full meal every night - meat, starch, veggie - ribs, roasts, chickens, meatballs. Though she used cans occasionally (e.g. canned corn), she had limits (canned green beans - never!). Every meal had fresh veggies, often from the two huge gardens that my Dad, she and we kids kept (we had a root cellar to keep winter stuff). Cobblers in the fall, fruit bowls all around in the summer, packed lunches for school that always had a real sandwich (ham, turkey, etc), fruit, cookies. Though she bought packaged cookies during the year (again, she had limits - fig newtons always, mallomars never!), at Christmas time, she was known for her huge platters of an array of homemade cookies. Friends and family would start "dropping by" around Dec. 15, knowing that they'd leave our house with a huge tray of homemade cookies. Some of my happiest memories of my Mom are of our all-day cookie-baking sessions, our huge fried eggplant events, or just hanging out and chatting as she cooked, singing and dancing to WGY.

                                      1. My mom was a good cook and excellent baker/pastry cook. She had very little cooking experience when she got married as my Oma wouldn't let any of her daughters cook, because she knew how Opa liked his food. So my Mom taught herself and seems to have quite the knack. Food was never fancy, but it all tasted good. Of course all helped by the huge garden that my parents continue to plant every year. She is always willing to learn new techniques or improve on her methods.

                                        And my mom's desserts are amazing. I can't match her on pie crust and she wins tons of prizes at the fair.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Sooeygun

                                          A good pie crust is truly a saintly creation!

                                        2. Ah, my mama...the best cook I ever had the good fortune to eat under. She imparted to her family a love for food, that good meals do not have to be fussy or overwrought, moderation in all things, how wonderful things taste when they had just been plucked from my parents' garden, and to not hop on the latest food trend. She took with her some dishes that can never be recreated and that will live on forever in her children's hearts and minds. Oh, what I would give to have one last meal with my parents...it's one of those you-don't-realize-how-great-you-had-it-until-it's-gone sort of thing.

                                          1. My mom was definitely a great cook - but she lived in a culinary box.
                                            Italian American food was all that I ever experienced as kid. (Or Chinese take-out!)
                                            She was brilliant at what she did cook, but she would never consider experimenting.
                                            Oh and the one and only dessert or sweet that she did was rice pudding! To this day -I have never had anything like her AMAZING rice pudding, but she never baked or made anything else.
                                            I think as she got older she has expanded her horizons a bit more......but she still only makes rice pudding as a dessert!!

                                            1. Wow, I really feel for the people who grew up with bad food! Luckily my mom was (is!) an amazing cook. Nothing terribly adventurous but always fresh and well prepared. She made dessert from scratch almost every night and makes the best fruit pies I've ever had. Whenever she would have a party, no matter how much food she made it would all get eaten and everyone would rave. My dad used to call her a 'wizard with food'.

                                              1. My mother was culinarily schizoid. She made deliciously light clouds of siopao with a peppery plum sauce. And her lengua estofado was perfection. And low-brow though they may be, I still love her ketchup macaroni and trailer park spaghetti.

                                                But then she was also the only Asian whose genetic inability to make rice challenged my faith in Darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest. Every pot would be hard and black at the bottom and smoked throughout. She managed to even bungle (and break!) the rice cooker we got her. Her lumpiang shanghai never turned out as light spring rolls so much as they resembled Cohibas burnt in car oil. Her steak actually turned me into a vegetarian for a time as the more aerodynamic pieces were more appropriate for skeet shooting than human consumption. Later in life she developed a penchant for trying new recipes and challenges, a habit I inherited more out of necessity than luxury.

                                                1. Kitchen saint. She raised six kids born over a span of 18 years (the last being born the day after the eldest graduated from high school) and made the progression of eating from the start of the 1950s through the 1980s with children at home.

                                                  For my parents' sixtieth wedding anniversary last fall, we did a video of the anniversary dinner, and the conversation was structured around all the foods that my mother (and, to a lesser extent, father) prepared, how they were made, what was great, merely good, and less than good. The signature failed dish of my mother's cooking career occurred during the WIN (Whip Inflation Now, for them too young to know) years of the 1970s, when our dear Bavarian neighbor bestowed a huge batch of summer (not-yet-frosted, and therefore very bitter unbeknownst to my mother) kale on my mother, and she created an unfortunately inedible meal from the bounty in a heroic effort to stretch free food. It was the *only* time in my family where we were excused from eating the meal. And we've never stopped discussing it to this day, of course, because what we discuss most in our family is FOOD. (I think our neighbor thought my mother would know to pickle it; the neighbor always made her own kraut.)

                                                  Anyway, my mother wanted to make sure all of her children knew how to cook, not least the four boys, whom she wanted to make sure would never be a burden on their mates of the future in that and other regards (we all knew how to keep house, too). She exposed us to Craig Claiborne, Julia, Simca, et cet. She succeeded: all of her children are good (some would say excellent) home cooks. And so have been their mates. When we get together, we are a formidable bunch of folks in the kitchen. And we are often large people. So of course that means we have to work in kitchens that are the same size as what my mother dealt with: about 8 by 10 feet....

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: Karl S

                                                    Wow! Sooo many lovely stories (and not-so-lovely stories) about mom.

                                                    The few recipes she'd follow to the letter were quite good, however. I continue making them to this day, with a couple of tweaks.

                                                    My mom could not improvise. When she did it was a recipe for disaster. I recall insipidly sour "sweet and sour pork," salmon-colored macaroni and cheese (she noticed that a neighbor put tomatoes in mac 'n cheese -- she added what she had on hand, a can of Contadina tomato *sauce*). Anything she did on the grill was incinerated on the outside and more than likely raw on the inside (that's 'cause she had no patience at all for the coals).

                                                    How I turned out the foodie I am today? I haven't a clue...

                                                    1. re: Karl S

                                                      What a sweet remembrance Karl. And, how lucky you and your brothers and sisters are to still have your parents. Happy Cooking!

                                                    2. Kitchen-saint for true southern cooking, but every now and then she'd get stuck on the same dishes. Her food was great, i just wish she had been a little more experimental. There were a lot of cuisines i was never exposed to.

                                                      1. My mom is not a good cook, she's still not a good cook.
                                                        She did what she could do with what she had - which wasn't much. As a kid - I never thought 'Jeeze, my mom's an awful cook!', I thought 'Jeeze, I wish I could have a Twinkie' or whatever it was at the time.

                                                        I didn't know about light fried chicken and creamy gravy until Mr CF and I started dating. Then I learned ... a lot.

                                                        I am a better cook than my mom, but I've had better advantages than she did. I've had the time and resources that she didn't. So I invite her to dinner every other week - she loves it.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. My mother was an inspiration to me in the kitchen: an excellent cook and baker (even though my dad usually wore the baker's toque), which is surprising considering that both of here parents were Irish immigrants.

                                                          She never knew from one Ari Force assignment to the next what country we'd be living in, or what kind of kitchen she'd have. She treated like a grand adventure, happy to explore different cuisines. (And this was back in the 50's and 60's, when most Americans were not exactly adventurous diners.)

                                                          She was an extremely patient teacher, and was wise enough to let me fail occasionally. Miss you, Mom!

                                                          1. From what I hear, my mom could not cook when my parents were first married. My dad's mother taught her everything she knew. My mom was in my eyes, only behind my grandmother in the cooking department. Crawfish bisque from scratch, peeling all those crawfish and then stuffing the heads, tons of work. Making the most delicious things out of the cheap cuts of meat. Her smothered 7 steaks were incredible. My wife got to sample my father's version of 7 steaks and she is a convert. My mom's jambalaya was always my favorite, and no one in the family can make it like she did. Whenever I would come home from college or from out of town after I moved away, she always made me her jambalaya or baked macaroni and cheese.
                                                            I do recall one attempt at a lemon meringue pie as being a total disaster, but other than that it was all good.

                                                            1. Mom was not only a kitchen train wreck, she came from a family of Wretched Wrecks...her sister raised two fine sons and was happily married for 30 years without ever setting a pan of water on to boil. Their mother , my grandmother, was equally disinterested in producing food that was interesting or even edible. Strictly food as fuel. Anything that tasted good, let alone great was an affront to the great Scottish Presbyterian God that ruled their lives.

                                                              They had other talents. Fine seamstresses. Very good business women. Good, loving moms.

                                                              But cook? no way...my dear mum was asked to make macaroni salad once for some sort of church social: she opened a box of Kraft Dinner, took out the pasta, threw away the 'cheese', boiled the shells for about 30 minutes and added plain chopped celery to the mushy results...that was it...sigh...not even salt and pepper...SO bad...

                                                              I learned to cook at age 5 with a wonderful Ukrainian-born family friend who loved me and my mom and good food. Cooking well was my form of rebellion.

                                                              Now my newly married daughter and I hang out in the kitchen, doing it all from scratch, locally and with imagination and gusto...I am so proud of this! We can hardly wait for grandchildren so we can all play...

                                                              And you know what will likely happen? those kids will be totally disinterested in food! 'cause that Scottish Presbyterian God will have vengeance!

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: LJS

                                                                Once I got done drying my eyes from tears of laughter, I recognize the same Presbyterian God that ruled my mom's cooking.

                                                              2. Saint. My mother's side of the family has always been involved in the military or government as far back as we can trace it and I'd describe her upbringing as pretty Victornian in nature. She went to private girls' schools throughout and although she received a formal education through college, she was never expected to really have to go out and work and thus received an equally rigorous informal education in domestic matters as well. The philosophy and history and politics that she was taught was more so that she would be able to speak intelligently while entertaining. Needless to say her domestic skills, cooking especially, are amazing and extensive. Biryanis, roasts, kormas, koftas, kababs, mishtis - you name it, she has a recipe stored in that head of hers.

                                                                Pretty funny that she ended up marrying a starving Cal Ph.d. student and living in a one-bedroom on Ashby in Berkeley.

                                                                1. Train wreck. Except she could make some great fried chicken and taught me the art of making gravies and other roux based sauces. But the vast majority of her offering were bland and overcooked at best and inedible at worst. My Dad died when I was 10 and from that point we ate out virtually every night. The rare meals at home consisted of save meals such as grilled cheese.

                                                                  1. I'm 63, just so you have a time reference.

                                                                    My mom was an excellent cook. She was 'way ahead of her time as well in that she got terribly bored with the meat-and-potatos style of cooking from her generation and heritage, so she got interested in ethnic cooking very early on. She was of Russian heritage, and Dad was PA German, yet she was making Italian gravy and meatballs in the early 50's. No lipton soup onion dip for her! I don't ever remember being served canned anything, not even canned peas. And could she ever turn out a magnificent pie!

                                                                    Dad, a pharmacist who got frustrated because his job didn't involve compounding prescriptions any more, turned to cooking as a hobby. Indian, Italian, French, Mexican, German -- you name it, he tried it. As business in his drug store started to wane in the late 60's, he'd use the free time to experiment by cooking beef burgundy, chilli, or some other concoction over a bunsen burner in the back room. He was not as "natural" in the kitchen as my mom. She could improvise much more freely than he could; he stuck to recipies much more. He, on the other hand, would seek out people who could talk to him about food and help him discover out-of-the-way places. He made his own beer, wine and liquers as well. Between them, they had hundreds of cookbooks and file drawers full of recipe cards.

                                                                    Neither of them ever taught me to cook. My mom wasn't the type to want someone helping her (or even watching her) in the kitchen, and my dad came into his cooking prime after I was away at college. What they DID give me was a sense of adventure, an appreciation for and curiosity about all kinds of food, the willingness believe that I could cook anything if I put my mind to it, and a sense of freedom in the kitchen.

                                                                    I never understood how different my culinary background was untill I got older; I just thought that was the way everyone cooked/ate growing up. There are people I work with who will only eat basic meat and potatos. Their spouses don't eat vegetables other than maybe canned corn. My South Philly friends only go to Italian restaurants. Mexican food? Ewww. They all think I am very odd duck for going to a Thai place for lunch, or to the felafel cart across the street. They come into my office when I've ordered delivery from the Indian place, and look at me like I've lost my marbles (although they will admit it smells good). I mention tofu & get blank stares.

                                                                    I am blessed.

                                                                    1. Mom was a widow at 36 with 4 young children (4-10 yrs). Overnight f/t worker and instant coupon shopper. Even if she wanted to, cooking & baking was not in the cards. I spent many Sat's at the Library deep in cookbooks & taught my sibs what I could during our formative years. Mom bought the food, we prepared it. We never complained.

                                                                      Today, Mom is a restaurant lover and a decent quick cook. When she visits, we make extraordinary salads and eat healthy foods. Mom is a health nut. Mom turned out beautifully as a foodie who continues to appreciate the talents of other cooks/bakers/chefs.

                                                                      Afterall, she is a saint.

                                                                      1. Trust Sam to introduce a topic that includes such intriguing glimpses of how Chowhounds got to be Chowhounds...there are some marvelous tales in this thread! is anyone keeping score?

                                                                        1. If Sam had asked about Grandma, my post would have been quite different. :)
                                                                          That women could control a kitchen like nobody's business!

                                                                          1. My mother was a self-taught cook, with the help of her mother. They both were intuitive geniuses in the kitchen. Granny was an old-fashioned rural Kentucky cook, and Mom learned a lot from her, but then made herself try different things. She died not quite a year after I married Vickie and started my own journey in the kitchen. I think, had she lived longer, she and I would have had a great time in the kitchen. She would have particularly liked to learn about rolling out pasta and exploring the works of Jacques Pepin, who would have made her, ahem, drool.

                                                                            One of the most treasured of my possessions is Mom's chili recpie, hand-written on a 3X5 index card and slipped into a plastic sleeve. She gave it to me before we were married, and I've adapted the recipe over the years, but it's still Mom's chili. It is all the more precious to me since Dad remarried a year after Mom died, and The New WIfe proceeded to "de-Mom" the house in which we grew up. Including throwing away Mom's recipe box, with scores of hand-written recipes and others clipped from magazines and newspapers that became some of our favorite dishes -- including literally all the recipes for the 30 or so different cookies she'd bake for Christmas.

                                                                            Her crowning achievement was this: When she and Dad married, Dad's mother -- an impossibly shrewish old biddy with no gift for food -- gave her a list of the foods Dad simply would not eat and practically ordered her not to prepare them for him. Within a year, Dad had eaten and enjoyed them all -- all but one: Pizza, for which he had an irrational dislike, until after two major strokes when it became his favorite food.

                                                                            I miss her. I think of her and food as coming from the same loving place.

                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                              1. I think someone ought to write a book on this theme. I began cooking in second or third grade when Mom taught me to scramble and poach eggs and make french toast and cook bacon. Within a year or two, cake mixes followed. But I didn't cook whole meals until many years later. Mom, a dietician with nine kids and a loving husband to look after, did wonders in the kitchen. The only herbs she used were dried bay leaf, thyme and sage. And she often used Worcestershire sauce. Her meals were simple, but always imaginative and good. Dad was the "gourmet" cook in our family--he'd take time occasionally to do things that required a flourish. But the thing I remember most is Saturday mornings when he would make a pot of soup and a Braunschweiger sandwich on rye with red onions and good German mustard. The point of all this was that I grew up thinking that preparing food was something anyone could do. I actually baked my first bread and made my first pastries when I was in high school. But I still had my nose in the cookbooks. It was only after I finished my seminary training that I learned to pay attention to ingredients, let them guide me. And I began thinking of flavors as musical chords. That was Mom's influence. She was an accomplished pianist.
                                                                                But for both of them, the main lesson I learned was that food is a gift of love. And so, I suppose, you could say that both of them were kitchen saints.
                                                                                A few years ago when Dad was in an assisted living place at the age of 92, I had the joy of cooking a meal for the residents. It was a simple pot roast--the meal planned around foods that Dad could see against the white of the plate. (He had macular degeneration.) One resident, a southern belle who was a real lady and must have been a great beauty, explaimced: "This is a feast! What are we celebrating." I told her we were celebrating Dad and all of them. But, you know, it would have been an ordinary Sunday meal at home. I don't think I knew as a kid how much love went into those meals.

                                                                                1. My mom is a good cook, but when I was groing up she really didn't enjoy cooking. To make matters worse, my dad and brothers and I were perpetually ravenous, there wasn't a lot of extra money floating around, and she was usually working full-time. So her goal was to put vast quantities of balanced calories on the table for as little money as possible while minimizing time spent in the kitchen.

                                                                                  Of course the post-WWII fascination with convenience foods (cream soups, boxed cake mixes, etc.) came into play. And her educational background was an issue, too; she earned her bachelor's in Home Economics in the era of the Green Revolution, when there was a real question as to whether Earth was a Malthusian system approaching its upper limit. So feeding people efficiently was of primary concern, and the fact that things like Cornell bread and fish meal don't make for tasty meals didn't enter into the equation.

                                                                                  Fortunately, she didn't bake much homemade bread (Cornell or otherwise), and fish meal wasn't available in the local supermarket. So we ended up eating food that was reasonably tasty, easy to prepare, simple, and cheap.

                                                                                  Now that the kids are grown and gone, she's started enjoying cooking a little more. There was no such thing as sauce growing up (unless you count spaghetti sauce, which was ground beef and canned tomatoes with garlic, onions, and oregano). A couple of years back I showed her how easy it is to make hollandaise, and she has started making that and a few other "frivolous" things to add to basic food.

                                                                                  So, train wreck? No. Kitchen saint? Probably not. But she made all our meals from scratch (more or less), taught us all the basic kitchen skills we needed to survive, and provided a springboard for those of us who decided that we wanted to be Chowhounds.