HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Was your mom a timid cook?

  • l

I love my mom, but I have to confess that she wasn't a good cook. Yes, she fed seven people every day, and no, we never went hungry. But spices frightened her, and new recipes made her worry that she might waste money on a poor meal. So we had boringly predictable food. Maybe this is why I crave new food experiences, but it makes me wonder -- how might her life (and cooking) been better with a bit more zest?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. My mother was a bored, unhappy cook who turned out pretty good meals every night, though she would much rather have been reading with a cigarette in one hand and coffee/martini in the other depending on the time of day. She made great tuna noodle casserole and decent lasagna and for a picky eater like i was that was just fine. (I learned to make Kraft Mac and Cheese at an early age.)

    4 Replies
    1. re: escondido123

      My mom did cook with a cigarette in one hand (martini came after cooking). But she did the best she could, considering her own mom died early & couldn't teach her.

      I remember several not-quite-good entrees that might have been great -- salmon loaf from canned salmon, pureed in a blender, bones and all -- "more calcium" -- and potatoes every which way.

      And I also remember the cookbook she got as a wedding gift, whose instructions were the same for every recipe: "Cook until done".


      1. re: lyden

        Ha! And literally everything was always baked at 350.

        1. re: sandylc

          "Ha! And literally everything was always baked at 350."

          Hilarious, Sandy! I don't think my mom even knew that there was any other heat setting than 350. She called it "good ol' 350." The oven was never set any anything but that.

          1. re: EarlyBird

            That is SO funny!!

            When my mum asks you to put the oven on, you don't need to ask what temperature she'd like - it's ALWAYS 180! I don't think the poor beast could go any higher.

    2. The food era of my childhood was all about bland, bland, bland. This is sad, because it was also the first time that more ingredients and information were available to a larger number of people.

      My mother was a wonderful cook. No, wait....rewind.....That's was SHE has always said! I only just realized the other day that she was/is the only one always saying so!!!!!

      I was a "picky" eater because I was discriminating!!! Wow, breakthrough moment......

      Mom was so very anxious to gain Dad's approval that she was scared frozen regarding any experimentation. I f he approved of a dish, she slavishly made that dish the exact same way again and again. She lived in fear of messing up! He had some strange ideas about food. He had no idea how to cook anything, but he knew how he wanted things to be!

      We didn't starve, anyway!

      2 Replies
      1. re: sandylc

        I wish I could blame my picky eating on my mother's food, but I hated onions--cooked or raw, chopped or sliced--rice and a list that includes almost all vegetables and every fish but fish sticks.

        1. re: sandylc

          Oh gosh! Sounds like my childhood ...

          I remember a 'chicken cashew' dish that was nixed as "too different" -- but I don't remember the kids saying this -- just dad.




        2. my mom didn't cook. she does a bit more now, but i would probably say it's closer to timid anxiety. everything has to be just right, and it's such a production, that i can't imagine making new things is enjoyable for her. she has a solid repetoire of things she makes for her and my stepdad, all basic. she cooks new things with the mindset of "i have to see how it's supposed to look, and then next time i won't have to be so stressed." ha. of course, lack of experience breeds anxiety. nobody likes to goof, especially if it's supposed to be dinner, but she has no zen in the kitchen. she doesn't have intuition. most importantly, she doesn't trust the food. i always say there's a symbiotic relationship between me and my ingredients/food/recipe/methodology. i do my part, then i trust that they will take it from there. mom will never change, and that's okay... which is why i do a lot more of the cooking for family occasions. (and salad dressing... once a month i have to make a large squeeze bottle of dressing for her. i've given her the recipe, but she prefers me to make it. oh well)

          4 Replies
          1. re: Emme

            There was a lot of pressure several decades ago for the "little woman" to be the perfect little housewife.

            1. re: sandylc

              not even close. my mom was a single mom, self-employed owner of her own firm... she wasn't anything near a housewife. at all.

              1. re: Emme

                I was speaking of the decades-ago expectations of women - they had a very narrow window of opportunity for acceptable behavior, and that behavior included housekeeping, cooking, and child-rearing.

                I don't know what era your mother was active in, but I admire her.

                1. re: sandylc

                  ...she'd probably appreciate it if i acknowledged she's still active... thriving practice, obsessed with golf... still doesn't share my culinary verve. oh well. all said and done, she has done well.

          2. My mom made great food, but she's a bit timid in the kitchen. She often tells me that she admires my confidence, and I wish I could convince her to just go for it! She definitely has the talent: she made home-cooked meals every night, usually without a recipe. I was never bored with food, so I was surprised when she revealed her own kitchen insecurities. Seriously, the chocolate sheetcake she made/makes me for every birthday I celebrate at home is absolutely divine. Plus, she made sure to expose my brother and I to (at the time) more exotic foods, like sushi (we went out for that), lamb, and artichokes.

            I think the major problem at home was trying to get us all to the table. To quote my dad, it was a bit like wrangling cats, and sometimes she didn't (couldn't) stick to her guns and force us to sit down at the table as soon as dinner was ready. I feel bad for wanting to sit in my room blasting music or chatting on the phone or playing Super Nintendo, when my mom was counting on me to set the table and eat. I definitely knew that, once I got to the table, I wouldn't be excused until everyone else was finished eating. Of course, now that I'm not enveloped in a cloud of teenage angst, I really appreciate those family meals!

            1. My first reaction was yes, she was but then I thought about it a little more and realized she was a very bland cook because that is how my dad liked his food. She actually took a fair amount of risk in trying to make favorites of his from Norway and she did a good job based on what I know of those dishes. Sadly, they all were pretty bland.

              1. I grew up in a two parent household where both worked so there wasn't a ton of time to get meals on the table. I was born in the late 70s, so I grew up in the 80s eating things out of boxes, like Hamburger Helper, boxed scalloped potatoes (*vomit* still can't stand the thought of that), and Shake N Baked pork chops with a can of cream of mushroom soup dumped over the top (still gag about that one). My mom was a decent cook, on weekends she could turn out a tasty beef stew or pot roast. Nothing gourmet or anything but good solid meat and potatoes type fare. My dad worked long hours and rarely cooked but when he did he would make a phenomenal from scratch chicken or turkey soup and he also rocked at taco making.

                I am fairly certain their spice cabinet had (and still does) about 5 different items, and never, ever any fresh herbs. Zesty or bold is NOT how I would describe my childhood meals.

                1. I would say not so much timid as unadventurous. My grandmother was (god love her) a terrible cook. Vegetables were all cooked to death, meat always way overdone (doubly sad as my grandfather was a professional butcher and brought home some really good stuff). My mother was a much better cook, but relied on a regular repertoire of fairly basic dishes - though to be fair, that may have been because she was feeding a husband and kids who didn't want anything more exciting.

                  Me, I started getting seriously into cooking in my mid 20s after stints living in San Francisco and Germany, and by now (I just turned 60) have quite a reputation as a cook among my friends, if I do say so myself.

                  1. my italian grandfather taught my mom to cook, so she could turn out excellent sauce and lasagne, but otherwise she used recipes for everything. because she hated them, we never ate vegetables. i was well into adulthood before i had asparagus or artichokes, lol. we had iceberg lettuce salad every night, with either corn, peas or green beans as the veg.

                    what she made she made well, but as others have mentioned it was a huge production and everything took a very long time to prepare.

                    when i was preparing to leave for college, i remember her asking me if there was anything i wanted her to teach me to make. i said not really, because i'd seen her cooking everything so often. she was flabbergasted (and probably kinda hurt) that i thought observing was enough. well, it was, lol.

                    she also was a gadget queen, which was a huge turn-off for me.

                    1. My mother was a natural born cook. She'd slap together beef stroganoff, or stuffed cabbages, or lasagna, or meatloaf , or tuna casserole, or curried crab or tacos with no grief or effort. Back in the 60's, there weren't all the exotic ingredients we have nowadays, but she always had a full battery of herbs and spices at hand, and we four daughters took up the cooking duties when Mother went back to work full time when I was in high school. We each had our specialties, so there was never the same old same old.
                      I had to learn a lot more about cooking after I moved out of the house, but I'd say between her cooking, our dinner sharing duties, and the home ec cooking classes at school, I had a pretty well rounded background of different kinds of foods. Her mom was Slovak, and her dad was Polish, so she grew up with traditional Eastern European meals. But Grandma didn't teach any of her six kids to cook - she said they were too poor to waste food, so she did all the cooking. Which may have been a good thing, because my mother taught herself to cook from the Joy of Cooking and Sunset magazine recipes, and we girls and my dad were the lucky taste-testers.

                      1. My mother passed away last week just a couple of weeks shy of 80. Alzheimers. Your post is giving me cause for a bittersweet reply. My mom was, I guess, a timid cook. Her spice cabinet literally consisted of: Salt. Pepper. Garlic Salt. Accent. Bay Leaves. Every once in a while celery salt and onion flakes would pop up. She had a very limited menu as my dad was strictly meat and potatoes (we were a typical Irish/Catholic family). However, nobody, and I mean NOBODY on the face of this earth could cook a roast the way my mother could. She had a gift. I'm telling you, I cannot make a roast beef the way she did. She would slice onions and place them on top of the beef...when the beef came out of the oven it was nice and rare and the onions were nice and crispy. She made "fresh" ham a lot and leg of lamb a lot and they were always cooked to perfection. Her roast chicken could put any french chef to shame. However, in our house, jarred spaghetti sauce (Ragu) prevalied. Her meatballs were never browned first. She just mixed chopped meat with salt, pepper and egg and threw them into the pot with the sauce to simmer. On Friday's we always had fish sticks and spaghetti. LeSeur canned peas were exotic. She did make a great bechamel sauce for the frozen cauliflower though. Due to her Irish immigrant parents influence, we did have kidneys and eggs for breakfast quite often...and because of economic circumstances we did have various offal like tongue--but it wasn't exotic for us. It just was normal. One thing that sticks out in my mind to this day is the time she DID manage to go a bit out of the box. She made a shrimp curry. Now, remember, there were five kids and my dad just lived for red meat and spuds. Anyway, she made this curry which I thought was pretty decent. The flavor of the curry was very intriguing to me at a young age, I was around 9 or 10. So she serves this with a ton of shrimp, I might add. Nobody would eat it but me. I felt so sorry for her. My sibs went off the wall with the choking motions and the "EWWWW'' drama. I found it so disrespectful to her. Even my dad didn't compliment her on it. He just ate it silently. She felt so bad--I swear my mother was on the verge of crying. After that she never ever made an attempt at anything remotely exciting or different. I still feel bad as I write this.

                        10 Replies
                        1. re: jarona

                          How very sad....your mom's passing and the shrimp incident, both. It is odd how, in that era "(my mom is 79), a successful family meal practically earned a life-and-death importance. If her bland meals were not perfect, my mother was humiliated and upset. My son is 23, and we have always said, "hey, let's try to make this" - with varying results!! Always fun, always an adventure, mostly successful - the cooking style of hubby, son, and me, that is.

                          I think the previous generation was just repressed, in general! It somehow made them feel safe, or something.

                          1. re: sandylc

                            Sandylc. You know...you are so right about the successful family meal being of life-and-death importance and the repression. I never thought of that. My own family is very open to suggestion because I've always experimented when they were young. The rule of the house had always been 'I'm making this new and unusual dish. Try it. If you do not like it, make yourself a PPJ." Back when I was a kid, we did not have that option. We ate what was put in front of us--I'm sure it was the same with my parents--hence the "safe" repression.
                            Good call on that!

                            1. re: jarona

                              Maybe we are evolving, in a good way!

                          2. re: jarona

                            aww jarona... - she knew YOU liked it. small comfort, but something.

                            1. re: jarona

                              Oh my, jarona, thank you for posting this. I feel so bad for you and your mom at that dinner table. A different time, a different era. But you are honoring her attempt at breaking out of the box by being a 'hound. Nice way to thank her for showing you a way to enjoy experimentation.

                              1. re: lyden

                                Thanks hill food and lyden. I still sigh thinking about that moment.

                              2. re: jarona

                                O Jarona.
                                The fact your mother was always able to produce good food with such limited ingredients shows her creativity.
                                In France, I have noticed that all the butchers can always count on giving their own simple recipe for any cut of meat, with never more than 5 ingredients total and the most streamlined cooking process. Your mother's cooking sounds just like this unsung excellent French home-cooking tradition.
                                And obviously her desire for greater food horizons, even if thwarted, lives on through you. You should celebrate her DNA by eating well. I toast to you and to her.

                                1. re: jarona

                                  My thoughts are with you, Jarona. I agree with Parigi--eating well now honors your mother's memory. In my family, food definitely equals love, and I have a soft spot for the saying, "Love people. Cook them tasty food."

                                  1. re: jarona

                                    My dear jarona, as time goes on you will feel bad about many things that "coulda, shoulda, woulda" happened & you will beat yourself up about it all. But that is just a natural process of losing someone you dearly love. Time will pass & the wounds will heal, trust me. I never thought I would get over the loss of my mother, but time & God is always there & one day you will wake up starting to remember all the pleasant things that happened & pretty soon a smile will cross your face & then you will know that love is forever. Bless you.

                                    1. re: jarona

                                      Condolences about your mother, jarona. I just observed the 8th anniversary of my mother's sudden death at 67 just six weeks after we lost her mother, who was 86. Time does heal the wounds, but every year, I find myself remembering them both on holidays and their birthdays. You finally reach a point where the memories become comforting. That's such a poignant story about your mother trying the curry dish; good for you for supporting her efforts to spread her wings.

                                      I'm beginning to feel rather spoiled. My grandmother was a fabulous cook, who used not only the Pennsylvania Dutch recipes of her youth, but plenty of international recipes taught to her by neighbors from other cultures, from Italian to Polish to Greek. My mother took the experimentation a step further by purchasing the Foods of the World series, from which we tried a new international dish several times a month. Later, after my mother remarried someone whose roots were southern and southwestern, we learned how to cook many dishes from those regions. My grandparents, aunt and uncle all lived in our city, so we ate lots of family dinners. My uncle also went through a phase when he experimented with cooking all sorts of cuisines; as a retired executive, he has revived his experimentation. My aunt is French, so we often get to try her family's recipes, too. Everyday was an adventure in good food in our family. My sister and I still carry on the traditions, as well as creating our own dishes.

                                    2. I'm not so sure I would say that my mother was a timid cook. Her and my father know exactly what types of food they enjoy, and that is what was made in my house growing up.

                                      Unfortunately, the list of foods they enjoy is, I learned after moving out, a little limited. They are very typical baby-boomers, with very typical baby-boomer tastes. As a result, we had TONS of meat and potatoes, and the meat was almost always overcooked. They shied away from anything exotic or ethnic. The closest my mother ever came to making Mexican food was the occasional taco night, and the only "Asian" food I can remember her cooking is fried rice. Sauerbraten (and her's is very good) is about as native as she ever went. Neither of them really enjoys seafood, save the occasional fried fish sandwich, shrimp or lobster.

                                      So, growing up, we did not eat adventurously, but we ate well. Sure, my parents habitually overcooked meat, but I did not understand this until I moved out and began experimenting more with food. Since then I've learned that I generally enjoy my meat more on the rare side. They prefer it cooked more thoroughly, which is why they've always cooked it that way. I also learned the joys of sushi, a bunch of different seafood, and the cuisines of a number of various regions, once I moved out of the house.

                                      Now I have the good fortune of living close enough to my parents that we can share about a dinner a week, on average. Maybe a third of the time they cook, a third of the time I cook and a third of the time we go out to eat. When I cook I try to expand their (and my) experience a little by going a bit outside of their comfort zone, and they have always been willing to (at least mostly) indulge. My mother's culinary experimentation has also grown since we've started doing this, and I often see her trying different things. Just a couple weeks ago I made them cioppino - something my mom never would've previously cooked or considered eating - and they raved about it, even if my mom did pick out all of the mussels and clams and put them on a side plate. I was kind of counting on that so I could have them myself.

                                      11 Replies
                                      1. re: MonMauler

                                        I am surprised to read that you see typical baby boomers tastes as meat and potatoes. Most baby boomers grew up with that because their parents were of the M & P diet, but baby boomers are the ones who embraced new foods and brought them into the main stream culture, as well as the idea of organic, non-junk food. Guess we lived in very different experiences assuming we both lived in the US.

                                        1. re: escondido123

                                          I am surprised by that as well. I am a younger baby boomer, and I view my generation as being victims/escapees of the bland food generation, not perpetrators of it! It might matter which end of the zone you're in.....

                                          1. re: sandylc

                                            Yeah...another vote for this younger baby boomer being extremely surprised!

                                        2. re: MonMauler

                                          MonMauler, when I read this in your post: "Unfortunately, the list of foods they enjoy is, I learned after moving out, a little limited. They are very typical baby-boomers, with very typical baby-boomer tastes" I was taken aback. We baby-boomers are cool! We paved the way! How sad to be unappreciated :(

                                          1. re: prio girl

                                            Welcome to the club. As someone about fifteen years older than the boomers, I got awfully tired of hearing,"Never trust anyone over thirty."

                                            1. re: Plano Rose

                                              Hi, escondido, sandy, jarona, prio girl and Plano Rose.

                                              Almost immediately after posting I knew that the section you guys reference would be called out for what it is: a generalization based on my personal experiences and my, admittedly, limited knowledge of culinary history. I mean no offense.

                                              Indeed, as escondido points out, the food of my parents and their siblings is largely reflective of their parents' diet. In forming my response I failed to look beyond my parents culinary interests to the basis of those interests.

                                              Furthermore, I failed to consider what is probably somewhat of a regional bias. I grew up in Pittsburgh, which was not exactly on the forefront or even really receptive of most (any?) culinary movement in the last half of the previous century. (But we're doing a lot better, I swear!)

                                              Without addtional research, I also used my limited knowledge of culinary history in conjunction with my experience to support a pre-formed world-view. I saw the baby-boom generation as significant proponents of processed, prepared, junk and fast foods, leading the substantial growth of these sectors in the last quarter of the previous century, which is not entirely accurate.

                                              Indeed, although these industries did boom in correlation with the generation (ugh), it was truly the baby-boomers that brought the idea of organic, non-junk food to the United States, as escondido says. Sandy says her generation is "escapees of the bland food generation," and I recognize that to also be true, as it was the baby-boomer generation that helped popularize many of the previously overlooked/underutilized ingredients, cuisines and cooking techniques.

                                              So, please forgive my ignorance, bias and hastily considered response. I meant no offense.

                                              1. re: MonMauler

                                                aww....that's so sweet MonMauler. Really, no need to apologize.
                                                ........Just so long as you now realize that we baby boomers truly are cool and paved the way for you youngsters.

                                                1. re: prio girl

                                                  No problem MonMauler. I would say the irony today is that there is a whole group of "bad boys" who think you add bacon or cheese or duck fat to anything and that makes a great meal. I still look for those cooks who show a little finesse.

                                                2. re: MonMauler

                                                  Actually every generation brings new things to the food mix. Pizza and tacos weren't eaten in Oklahoma until I was in college. I doubt that my grandmother would recognize many of the foods we eat today.

                                            2. re: MonMauler

                                              my mother hasn't been able to cook for many years, so this thread is bringing back forgotten thoughts.

                                              i didn't even realize i liked meat until well into adulthood because as a child i was only served meat that was passed well done. dry to death. we had beef for dinner several times per week and i gave up meat as soon as i left home. fish was also cooked past the point of retaining any flavor.

                                              when i was an adult, my mother was terrified when i would turn the stove heat up to high and pre-heat the pan, lol.

                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                Ha! I remember getting a new stove many years ago, and my father called to caution me to "never turn up the burners past medium". He knew nothing about cooking and had no reason for this "wisdom", but he was quite sure about it!

                                            3. If it could be made with a can of Campbell's Soup, we ate it.

                                              1. My mom was a very solid cook from the Mid-West who could make pot roast, chicken and dumplings, pies, meat loaf, that sort of thing, that was excellent. Real middle American fare. Very much a woman of her time (mid-20th Century America) in that regard. So, nothing exotic.

                                                But she was not timid or unwilling to try new things. She watched the Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child religiously and loved food and travel, and these influences expanded her repertoire considerably as she got older. She made an Afghan lamb dish, basically a stew of lamb and lentils, that was phenomenal. She was great at one pot meals like that.

                                                1. Not even close! My mom was way ahead of the food curve. She cooked with gusto and she planned so that all of the things that she couldn't get in small town mid-western U.S.A were ordered and shipped for her special nights of cooking. She was always pouring over Gourmet magazine in the 60's and 70's and making some great stuff (and not so great). Dinners were an adventure with her. Once a month she would make an ethnic dinner week and would cook stuff from a particular cuisine. My friends would ask me what I had for dinner and when I would use words like paella or cheese fondue or orange fritters they were non-plussed. She learned how to cook all of the Italian specialties that my father grew up with. She specially ordered stuff like polenta and dried porcini mushrooms so that she could make a perfect chicken cacciatore for my dad. In the 1960's, in my small Illinois town, nobody was even thinking about this kind of food. My parents, like many Catholics in those days, had way more children than most would want or be able to properly afford but they made us feel like world citizens in part because my mom cooked us stuff that the people we didn't know were eating.

                                                  We took family vacations but every year my parents took a vacation by their selves. It started off as cruises and I still remember the evening dress I would see from photos but eventually they branched off to Europe and the far east on there own. What always came back from these trips was FOOD. Trifles from England, hummos and stuffed grape leaves from Greece, borscht from the USSR (they must have really not liked the USSR because mom's borscht really sucked), tacos from Mexico made from her friends (borrowed) taco press from ingredients she got in Chicago which was an hour plus trip from where we lived.

                                                  My mom never ceased to amaze me with her willingness to try anything. She ate veal testicles in Green Sauce in Piemonte, the stracotto assino outside of Verona and some of the horrid stuff that she inspired her children to cook. Most of us really wanted to be in the kitchen with her because she was fearless.

                                                  It never occurred to her not to try new things. Her favorite memories as a child were the weekly thing she did with her Father. He worked for the Tribune as a telegrapher/ sports reporter. He used to take her to Stop and Shop (Dearborn and Washington) and for Chicago oldies this was a place where you could always get weird stuff. They would always pick out something weird and bring it home for my sweet but very conventional Irish Grandmother. Poor Lady! But mom made sure that we were not flummoxed.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: KateBChi

                                                    Just wanted to let you know that this was super fun to read-your mother sounds awesome.

                                                    1. re: KateBChi

                                                      How sweet! Your fearless mom sounds like someone I would have loved to know.

                                                    2. My mother wasnt what we'd call a good cook today. She learned to cook as a married woman in the late 1940s and 1950s when food was still being rationed after the war. This obviously limited a whole generation of cooks. It was also a time before most of us travelled overseas for holidays so there wasnt the influence of "foreign food" on her. I suspect she'd have said that there isnt a vegetable that doesnt benefit from even longer boiling - certainly my memory is of overcooked veg liberally slathered with butter.

                                                      1. I don't know if I could say my mom was a "timid cook" or not, but she hated deciding what to make for dinner and hated making it. She made what my dad wanted & liked. He hated any seasoning & ketchup. I swear he liked the Army food when he was in the Army and the Korean War. Now, as a kid my parents were older than most - my parents would be 83 today if still alive & I'm only 42.

                                                        All veggies were from a can & boiled to death, all meat overcooked, chicken so dry it squeaked, Minute Rice with no seasoning & celery pieces. As a kid I was a good eater - I liked spinach and ate most of what I was given. While a lot of meals were plain & bland and some just awful - there were some decent ones that I really liked although not remotely healthy.

                                                        However, they laughed at me watching & loving Julia Child as a kid and looked at me like I was from Mars when I made my first meal using a recipe from Glamour magazine as a young teenager. I now love to cook and trying new foods, tho I do have my limits!

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: jenscats5

                                                          This sounds like my experience...right down to watching Julia Child. In fact, Julia was pretty much the only TV I would watch as a kid.

                                                        2. there are reasons that a person cooks.
                                                          for my beautiful brilliant mother, her reason for cooking? > the family was supposed to eat.
                                                          she came from chef parents who had passion for creating pure and true beauty in their work kitchen but mostly [I think] their beautiful kitchen at home.
                                                          the fact that citrus grew with ease in Santa Monica, they had a large yard where they grew as much as they could that would end up in the kitchen.
                                                          mom [although raised with that and in that environment] didn't get the passion.
                                                          her little sister coined 'the firey one' didn't get the passion but her big sister 'the aristocrat' did.
                                                          I got my passion from the big sister [my Godmother] and grandparents.
                                                          but mom, she tried and I love her for the small efforts she did make.

                                                          1. hmmmmm......was my mother a timid cook? Good question. She cooked things she knew, she cooked to please my father's taste and she cooked within a small budget.

                                                            What did she cook? Polenta, tripe, brains, snails, to name a few of her specialties.

                                                            Did I invite my friends to dinner? Not often. I was afraid to freak them out!

                                                            1. It wasn't so much my mom, but she did the cooking and my dad was really picky - meat & potatoes...my mom tells me that on one of their first dates to a Mexican restaurant my dad asked her what kind of vegetable an enchilada was. So my mom couldn't be very adventurous and I think that sort of made her apathetic about cooking and it wasn't really enjoyable to her.

                                                              Then there is me who loves to try new things and new vegetables, spices, cuisines, etc. There are so many vegetables I thought I hated growing up because of the way they were prepared. My dad died a few years ago but since then I've found that my mom is pretty adventurous and will try most anything, and she likes spicy food which she was never able to make with my dad. To give my dad some credit he would try things when I made them. Now I trade recipes with my mom and she makes a lot of different things; she loves going to the Indian and Turkish markets in her neighborhood to browse through the spices, and when I visit she is always up for trying new restaurants.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Fromageball

                                                                I'm the same way! So many veggies I thought I hated as a kid was just how they were prepared. I now love most of them & none are canned! My mother died before my father, so I wonder if she would have been more adventurous....

                                                              2. I wouldn't call my mother's cooking timid. Unadventurous, boring, or indifferent would be more apt. She had a weekly meal schedule of fried pork chops on Tuesday, boiled meat and vegetables served in their cooking water (she called it soup) on Wednesday, Shake & Bake chicken on Thursday, Prince Spaghetti with Ragu Sauce on Friday, hot dogs on Saturday, and an indescribable "roast" on Sundays (The "roast", a/k/a Sunday Special, was a cut of chuck roast baked dry at 350F until brown in the center.). Mondays there was some variance, with some options being meatloaf or something she called "macaroni," namely elbow macaroni cooked with ground beef, a can of baked beans, and a can of stewed tomatoes. My mother never caught the mashed potato mix bug, but other than that, all vegetables were canned, with few exceptions. She was a SAHM, but she was never interested in using her days to experiment in the kitchen.

                                                                Some posters have commented on 1950s era repressiveness. That was certainly a factor. Also, both of my parents were fervant reverse snobs. They probably saw anyone who would try a different food or cooking method as a hoity toity snit who thinks she's better than her neighbors. And my mother's family was infested with a sort of triumphant pessimism. They viewed anyone who tried to improve anything in life as a fool too dumb to know that life is a vale of tears and all efforts at improvement are futile.

                                                                My mother was not incapable of making a good meal. The soup and pot roast were travesties, but the pork chops were good, and her annual stuffed cabbage progress was wonderful. One time she tried a recipe from a magazine, an apple pork chop dish with molasses, that was really good, but it didn't inspire her to try more. It wasn't until we all moved out and set up our own households that my parents broke out of their food repression. They make some pretty good meals now. Pity they didn't start earlier!

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: MrsBridges

                                                                  I wonder how much editorializing comes in to play in threads like this. "Food repression"? What the heck does that mean? My mom never tried to do anything but serve us good food that worked with her schedule. She didn't always succeed and Friday dinners pre-Vatican II are included on the horrid ventures of mid-western dining Hall of Shame. Really, steamed breaded fish fillets doused in tartar sauce topped with an anemic slice of tomato and American "cheese" and served on a hamburger bun. What were you thinking? I guess she got that idea from the Catholic school cafeteria.. But she never consciously cooked bad food. If she and my dad hadn't gone out every Friday for their "date" night she would have known how awful that stuff was. I am pretty certain of this but doubts do linger...

                                                                  I learned to make bearnaise and hollandaise and a crazy good horseradish cream sauce when I was a tweener because my mom wanted to serve beef fondue with dipping sauces and felt intimidated by Louis Diat's instructions from Gourmet's "Basic French Cookbook". Fortunately she figured an under 12 tyke wouldn't be "ascared". Once you master emulsion sauces the world is your oyster. Food repression be damned! I became the "Saucier" in my house. I never let my many siblings forget it.

                                                                2. my mom was definitely not timid--she still isn't and that's probably why I'm so doggone picky. she made me eat stuff i didn't want to eat :(

                                                                  1. I'm not sure that it's possible to be a timid Indian cook.

                                                                    1. She didn't even cook. She had cooks. It was quite tragic. She had a superior palette, and later in life she tried to cook, for her own pleasure. The result was notso-hotso. Dad and I always said it was good and tried to sound encouraging, but she knew.

                                                                      1. There was nothing timid about my mother in the kitchen or elsewhere. There was nothing she would not tackle from tripe, or lamb kidneys, to her never ending quest to make the perfect maron glace, or creme de menthe liquoure. Various meats and fish, vegetables of all kinds, and salads were our evening meals and once in a while a special dessert but most times simply seasonal fruit.. Several days a week we had a main soup or pasta, but always The Salad. In Boston she had access to all the great markets of the day ('30s, '40s, '50s), including S.S. Pierce Importers and Grocers so literally the world was our oyster. Meals times were adventures we eagerly looked forward to.

                                                                        All this and she taught in her Boston voice studio three days a week. Yes, she was a terrific cook. Our little family of four was very lucky.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: Gio

                                                                          Gio, I envy you. Your mom sounds like a trailbraizer. And as someone growing up in nearby Connecticut, I remember those SS Pierce jars and bottles -- so exotic! When I moved to Boston in the 80s, the SS Pierce company was closing down, and I was mourning the end of an era. Glad to see newer, truly wordlwide,products taking their place.

                                                                        2. In these times, sahe'd be considered timid, back in the 1950s-mid 1970s she was absolutely avant-garde to the point of being extreme.

                                                                          1. Mom was a f/t retail worker with 4 kids, widow at 36. Grocery shopping, coupon clipping and food stockpiling was her domain. The cooking for our family was mine from the age of 10.
                                                                            Mom had limited time and limited resources for a while but grew to loosen up by convenience foods, local family friendly restaurants and eventually grew to love ethnic foods. Never one to entertain at home tho...too much commitment. Of course, I wound up in a very diff direction but what Mom lacked in kitchen confidence she more than made up for in frugality lessons I still cherish. You rocked, Mom.

                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                                              HillJ, I'm thinking we should have a national "You rocked, Mom" day about 6 months after our anemic "Mother's day". I'm remembering the grocery coupon clipping you mentioned, but also the Green Stamps, gasoline stamps, and the 'other' frugalities my mom (and the kids!) took for granted. Thanks, mom.

                                                                              1. re: lyden

                                                                                ah, Green Stamps!! Books galore...we kids took turns with "sticky detail" and Mom never passed up an opportunity to open a bank account for the free irons, dishes and what nots that helped our family in leaner times. Good memories, lyden!

                                                                                FWIW, Mom's burial stone reads, "You rocked it, Mom!" Us kids couldn't have any other way.

                                                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                                                  Thanks so much for that, HillJ. Makes me want to redo my mom's burial stone. Let's hear it for all those tough ladies who raised tender kids.

                                                                            2. After reading the previous posts I have decided that my mother was a timid cook by today's standard but not really by the standards of her time (my Mom is long goen and was born in 1907). She was a terrific baker - her pies and biscuits were sublime. We usually had standard dinners of meat and potatoes but they were cooked well. The beef was rare and vegetables that were not canned were not cooked to death. She made curries, offal, ethnic food etc. When my Dad was away on business she would make all sorts of unusual things. One of her and my favorites for just girls nights was egg noodles with butter, canned peaches and fresh buttered bread crumbs - an amazingly delicous combination (or at least I thought so at the time). On occasion she would try something that was a real challange like cream puffs surrounded by golden sugar threads - I remember coming home from school to find sugar threads drapped over broom handles all over the kitchen. I always appreciated her cooking and I think her attitude helped me to be a not timid cook. It has been 30 years since she passed and I still miss her.

                                                                              1. Umm, maybe? A little? I'm not sure how to answer this. When I was a child, mom made various versions of meat, potatoes and a vegetable for a majority of meals. Casseroles were probably second after that. Both mom & dad are from Wisconsin, and "spicy" as most people think of it was not in their vocabulary. So dad's preferences were to the predictable, to say the least. Add in two picky daughters (my youngest sister seemingly wouldn't eat anything as a child, she is now the most adventuresome after me, and my other sister, the middle child, has amazed me in recent years with how many things she STILL won't eat, though I never realized it when we were younger), and mom's hands were kind of tied. Granted, there were ethnic dishes, but ethnic as in old-world, northern european stuff, not from other parts of the world (though mom still makes a great spaghetti sauce - does that count as different?). Fast-forward to today, mom, at age 72, cooks new dishes more than ever, indeed just the other day she made Chicken Marsala for the first time ever. Maybe not earth-shattering to those on chowhound, but it probably floored dad. She has learned better knife skills, starting with sharper knives (I actually got her finger off the top of the damn blade on her chef's knife!), she calls me for ideas, techniques, etc., (I'm far from an expert, but I read a lot, like here on chowhound), and even offers me new tips from time to time. Timid, maybe. Evolving, oh yeah!

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: Cheez62

                                                                                  Let's hear it for evolution! Your mom sounds awesome. I have a friend with a t-shirt that reads, "When was the last time you tried something for the first time?" That made me realize how important it is to try something -- maybe anything -- new, just to make sure you let yourself grow. One woman's chicken marsala is another woman's molecular gastronomy.

                                                                                2. That's an interesting question, because my mother was bold and intrepid with her spices and forays, and she was a pretty horrid cook. :)

                                                                                  1. No way was my mom a timid cook. But I will say that as she aged, her cooking took on some "off the wall" aspects. She was nineteen when I was born during the Great Depression. She loved to feed people, so there were a lot of spaghetti dinners. No, she wasn't Italian. She was English, born in Ireland, and came to America when she was seven. With her parents, of course. But marinara was easy and pasta was cheap and toss a lettuce and tomato wedge salad and bake some bread and you had a party. From my early childhood, my favorite thing she made was apple dumplings for breakfast served with warm nutmeggy, almost egg-noggy milk over them in a soup bowl. I've never been able to duplicate them, and once she was older, neither could she.

                                                                                    As she aged, my mother developed a penchant for bizarre recipes and basked in them. She was the first one on the block to make zucchini muffins, which are delicious and common now, but back then people would say, "ewww!" For a couple of years during my teens her favorite way to make "spaghetti" was to mix hamburger and Italian sausage, roll it out like a huge burger patty, cook some spaghetti and fold it into a skein and set that on the meat patty, then top the pasta with some really thick marinara type sauce and (from the round green can) "Romano" cheese, then pull the sides of the meat patty up to make sort of a girdle with the pasta just showing at the ends, one for each person, onto a cookie sheet and baked until the meat was nearly dead. Lots of work, but regular pasta in meat sauce was soooooooo much better! We had that once a week for at least a year. I loved eating at friends' houses.

                                                                                    She was resourceful. During WWII, when everything was rationed, she would buy sugar and beef and other rationed things in Mexico, which was about seven miles away. In third grade, when one of my best friends and her family were hauled off to "relocation camp" because they were Japanese, my mother baked dozens of cookies for my teacher so we would have a going away party for Florence. I remember walking all the way to school (gasoline was rationed so no more school buses) carrying two HUGE brown grocery bags filled with cookies; oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip. I remember those as "crying cookies."

                                                                                    When I was older and had kids of my own (my first was born when I was 34), I flew home for a weekend. My mother, the perennial dieter, joyfully served me a slice of "Mock Apple Pie." It sort of looked like apple pie. The dominant flavors were butter and cinnamon and sugar. I asked her what was in it, and with a great sense of adventure and discovery, she explained she filled a pie shell with broken Ritz crackers, some lemon juice, butter, cinnamon, sugar, and whatever, then topped it with a crust and egg wash and baked it. I was dumbfounded! "Mom, do you have any idea how many calories are in this compared to a REAL apple pie?" Her face fell. And she never made it again.

                                                                                    She made a chocolate mayonnaise cake that was divine. The mayonnaise voids the need for eggs or shortening. When she made it, it came out moist and dark and absolutely fantastic. I nagged her for the recipe for years. When she finally gave it to me, it doesn't work for me. She even gave me the original recipe she had clipped from a magazine, but when I make it, if I bake it in a tube pan I can use it for truck tires! It always always always comes out tough and rubbery when I try. I think she practiced witchcraft.

                                                                                    Her ultimate bizarre food adventure was the year she kidnapped my Christmas goose. I had served it on Christmas Eve, planning on it for leftovers on Christmas Day, thus freeing me up to play with the kids' new toys all day. At that time I only lived about four houses away from her. She came over around eleven on Christmas morning and said she was taking the goose to her house to warm up for dinner so I could keep playing with the toys. I didn't want to let her do that, but my husband insisted. She took my gorgeous stuffed with apricot-chestnut-Grand Marnier goose to her house, ripped off the skin, threw out the stuffing, and made goose tacos!

                                                                                    When she died, I fell heir to her ancient (1930s) "Household Searchlight Recipe Book" with the ruptured spine that housed all of her clipped recipes in the back. Among them I found a recipe for stuffing a turkey with popcorn and roasting it until it the popcorn "blows it's a-- off." I was always afraid to ask my dad if she had ever made it. I suspect she tried. No. My mother was not a timid cook by any stretch of the imagination.

                                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                      Really lovely fun tales of your mother! You've blessed us Caroline!

                                                                                      1. re: OCEllen

                                                                                        Thank you. She was a character. '-)

                                                                                      2. re: Caroline1

                                                                                        Lol at the turkey/ popcorn recipe. She sounded like a hoot.

                                                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                          OMG, the "mock apple pie" was a featured recipe on the Ritz cracker box for many years. Story was that it was created during WWI, when fresh fruit was scarce. I always wondered how it tasted -- how was it?

                                                                                          1. re: lyden

                                                                                            For ersatz food, it wasn't a bad imitation of apple pie. SHazaaam...! I found the recipe on-liine! http://www.kraftrecipes.com/recipes/r... Or at least Kraft implies it is. I seem to remember a bit of apple cider vinegar in my mother's version, but I only had it once. But notice on the Kraft website they caution readers on portion size? A 9 inch pie cut into TEN slices? Not in my mother's house! Mother's version was a bit heavy on the cinnamon and butter, so it didn't taste bad. But it was a noisy pie because as you ate it you could hear the calories and the fat grams going kaCHINK! kaCHINK! kaCHINK! And if you looked down, you could see your hips grow!

                                                                                        2. Interesting question!

                                                                                          My mother was never what I'd call a timid cook, and was actually somewhat avant-garde, as was her own mother. Meals were fairly predictable when we were young, but Mum would try out things no one else's mother seemed to be serving, and got more and more adventurous as the years went by. Now that she has stopped cooking altogether, she says food interests her more than ever.

                                                                                          Even as quite a young child, I was aware that we had things in our house that my friends didn't - always "REAL" cheese, a proper peppermill, and fewer processed foods.

                                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: shygirl

                                                                                            Boy, are you lucky! That makes her really easy to shop for... Take her out for a fancy schmancy tasting menu dinner! Or maybe you already have. Just a thought. '-)

                                                                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                              Hi, Caroline1.....actually, I did that just the other night. We went to quite an edgy new place with really interesting stuff on the menu and she LOVED it. :)

                                                                                              1. re: shygirl

                                                                                                What fun! In this day and age of namadism, it's a blessing you still live close to each other. Enjoy!

                                                                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                  Do you mean nomadism? Yes, it is a blessing to be near my mother, especially as I lived far away from her for years at a time starting when I was in my teens. At this point in our lives, despite my wanting a major change of scenery, I will not likely leave. Mothers and daughters go through so much "agony & ecstacy" and we've certainly had our share of that. Now that the roles are somewhat reversed, our friendship is so much more precious to me and, I think, to her as well. And it's funny how much food is a part of that!

                                                                                                  1. re: shygirl

                                                                                                    Yes. "Nomadism" is exactly what I meant. I bought a new Microsoft USB keyboard. I've used USB keyboards for years, but I forgot. Microsoft DOES NOT know how to make them. The cursor jumps, it.... Wel, let's just say it's a pain? And yes, I DID hit "l" twice when typing "well."

                                                                                                    You have discovered the great secret. When I was a little kid (preschool) I was furious with my mother one time for blaming me for something my little brother had done. I stomped my foot and told her when I was the mommy and she was the child, I would be fair but she wasn't. She laughed and told me she would always be the mother. When she no longer was, and I was "the mother," she reminded me of that incident. There's a gentle reconciliation that can happen where you and your mom are now that lets all of the hurt fall away and the joy endures. Over coffee, over tea, over oatmeal and in fancy schmancy restaurants. You're blessed! Both of you! Enjoy. '-)

                                                                                          2. My mom was a great cook. She wasn't overly adventurous, but we always ate well. I loved her food. She amassed recipe cards by the dozens. Sadly, several years ago, my mother passed away unexpectedly. I asked my dad if I could get her recipe cards but unfortunately he said he tossed them! HE TOSSED THEM!!!!!! Who could do that? My heart is broken. I would love to recreate some of the things she made "back in the day". Thank the lord, I picked up some good basics from her and my grandmother and my grandfather. They all cooked!

                                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: boyzoma

                                                                                              My mom has tossed a bunch of stuff that she shouldn't have - much of it mine. It is tough to forgive sometimes!

                                                                                                1. re: hill food

                                                                                                  Thanks, slc and hf. It's been tough to get over that one. Especially when I remember something in the back of my mind and now can't pull it out of my brain. There were some definite keepers in there. I'll just keep searching the net when something niggles at the back of my brain and hope I can find something close.

                                                                                                  1. re: boyzoma

                                                                                                    It's all in your head - you just have to find it!!!!!

                                                                                              1. Sounds like 50's cook from Betty Crocker school. Did she allow family to add condiments and spice, according to taste?

                                                                                                Family of 7 is large. Was she playing it safe for big crowd?

                                                                                                Mothers have disadvantage of budget and routine to juggle w/in their busy days. Have you offered to cook and try new recipes?

                                                                                                She will learn from your efforts, and enjoy the company in the kitchen. This is immediate improvement of quality of her life. Have fun!