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Mother's Magic: What Can You Never Make as Well as Your Mom Did?

My mom was a dashed good cook, and in remembrance of her, as well as to satisfy my cravings for her cooking, I still prepare many of her greatest hits. In most cases, the results are highly satisfactory, e. g. they are as good as her preparations or are at least very close. There are, however, a few dishes I can't even come close. Among them are...

Fried Pork Chops: simplest thing in the world to make, I know, but mine just don't measure up to hers. I could have eaten platters full of her fried chops if I didn't have to share them with dad and little brother.

Chicken Kiev: she didn't make chicken Kiev all that often, but when she did, it was spectacular. And frankly, mine sucks. I don't even bother trying anymore.

Pork Chops and Rice Casserole: this is the old mid-century warhorse of chops and rice baked in a Campbell's Cream o' Mushroom Soup concoction. Not an elegant dish, perhaps, but my mom's was completely delish. Mine is risible. Another one I've abandoned.

Y'all have similar experiences of failing to measure up to your mom's standards on certain dishes?

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  1. My Polish mom made the best stuffed cabbage! I have never tasted any as good as hers, and have not been able to duplicate her tasty "golombki".

    1 Reply
    1. re: three of us

      Ditto here on the stuffed cabbage and also her Latkes.....no matter how many times I've tried,they're good but just not the same good as hers!

    2. Gravy! I can make gravy, but it never tastes the same. Pot Roast with gravy was a staple in our house.

      1. I can never get the fried pork chops the same either.

        1. For me it's mom's and grandmother's

          Macaroni and cheese
          Fried pork chops
          Smothered greens - collards, cabbage and green beans
          Candied yams

          6 Replies
          1. re: fldhkybnva

            Ah, Smothered Collard Greens are a lost art. If you nail that one, write it down for later generations. Heck, most folk, even in the Deep South, have no clue what I am talking about, when I mention "Smothered Collard Greens."



            1. re: Bill Hunt

              They are going strong in my grandmother's kitchen. I don't think I could ever recreate them it's some kind of magical mystery as to what she puts in that pot. They are served at all holiday dinners and whenever I visit collards and baked southern Mac are on the menu at least twice a day, they reheat beautifully.

              1. re: fldhkybnva

                My Southern to the core grandma, when asked about her secret way of making anything, would smile and say "I spit in it for extra flavor." We never quite knew if she was serious, but danged if her food wasn't incredible, yet unreplicateable.

                1. re: fldhkybnva

                  Bless you!

                  I have been working with my wife (New Orleans native, but says she has never had "smothered collard greens?"), and things are getting better. Still, not sure that she completely understands.

                  I tried the same thing with Chef Joseph Linn, Blackberry Farm, and 2012 James Beard Best Chef in the South. He's also working on it too.

                  Enjoy, and realize that others are craving your smothered collard greens!


                2. re: Bill Hunt

                  I make a collard green and tasso bread pudding for a teacher lunch at school every year..

                  1. re: girloftheworld

                    Wow, that sounds good too!

                    For all the fun that many Yankees make of collard greens, I say, "you just do not know what you are poking fun of... "


              2. Beef stew, mine is decent but hers was absolutely delicious. Never been able to replicate that flavor no matter how I tweak it.

                1. Egg salad. I make it exactly the same as my mother made it but it just does not taste as good.

                  1. Dunno about Chicken Kiev, but I'm betting at least part of the reason you can't duplicate the pork chop recipes is because we can no longer get the same sort of pork chops we ate as kids. I've completely given up on frying them.

                    OTOH, I still love pork chop and rice casserole and have successfully tweaked it to work with today's low-fat chops. It's the height of convenience food brown gloop, but I still like it...
                    I use Uncle Ben's Original Long Grain & Brown rice mix. That can be hard to find these days. It has to be the original recipe stuff that comes in a box, not a bag. Cook it on the stove for half the recommended time, dump it with the remaining liquid in a casserole. Mix in a can of C of M soup.
                    Brown the chops in a screaming hot pan, just long enough to get a good sear on them. Nestle them in the pan. Bake at 350 until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: onrushpam

                      You may well be right about the chops. And that recipe sounds good. Maybe I'll give it one last whirl...

                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                        Get naturally raised pork. You'll be amazed at the difference.

                    2. My mom was not a great cook by any means but i cannot replicate her chicken ala king. A thing of beauty. Sadly, she doesn't remember how she made it to help me out. Oh, the white whale.

                      1. Scrambled eggs, or actually eggs of any sort. And soup. That woman can make a delicious soup out of almost anything.

                        1. my mom is a great cook. she can still make something out of almost nothing and everything she makes is always a few notches above mine. she says it's a result of being born during WWII in Japan. They had no meat, no dairy etc. I still say it's talent.

                          Baked Chicken- the lady takes some cut chicken parts, salts them and pops them into the oven. out comes crispy salty juicy chicken. When I make this it comes out rubbery.

                          Macaroni Gratin- she used to mix a bit of shrimp into this baked with bread crumbs on top. yum, yum.

                          Beef stew- her stew is simple with just meat but delicious. no wine or anything fancy. just meat, water, onion or I think.

                          Sushi Rice- once again magic. I have no idea how this lady does it. mine always comes out over salted/vinegary but hers is perfect.

                          Curry chicken- mom strikes again.

                          I guess what amazes me is the simplicity in her dishes. no fancy ingredients like the way i do it, yet surpasses in taste every time.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: trolley

                            My mom also made an excellent curry chicken. It was pure retro Americana, nothing like what one would find in India I'm sure, but I loved it. And I am presently ironing out a recipe I hope will be as good as hers. As of the last tasting, it still had a little ways to go.

                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                              mine is japanese curry so yeah, ditto here on nothing like Indian food. i still can't replicate it. she also refuses to use curry blocks which are full of MSG and stuff she hates. she uses S&B curry powder which makes it so much harder to make that creamy thick consistency.

                              1. re: trolley

                                This made me laugh because I had a coworker who smelled my lunch and said it smelled just like her Mom's curry. I confessed it was just made with an S&B curry block...she went home and asked...sure enough,that's the way her Mom made it, too! She'd always assumed it was a special recipe her Mom brought with her from Japan.

                                For me, I can't match the chuck roast my Mom made almost every Sunday. I don't know whether it was the pan, if I under salt or what.

                          2. Spaghetti sauce aka red gravy. She doesn't have a recipe; she just does it, and I can help her taste test toward the end to add more of something if needed, but I can't even get it close doing the whole thing on my own. argh

                            Eggs, any style.

                            Chicken noodle soup. How hard can it be? But no.

                            1. my moms bread pudding- there is just some way she throws it together that I can not duplicate ... and her hot tea

                              1. Pie. My mum made the best pies I've ever had, especially apple and mincemeat. I watched her a thousand times growing up, but gave up trying to make them years ago, having never even got close to her level.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Chatsworth

                                  Pie here too. Mum's rhubarb pie is something we await with bated breath every spring but her apple is awesome too. It's really all about the crust, though the fillings are always just right too.

                                  1. re: grayelf

                                    Rhubarb crumble I can manage - nothing like forced rhubarb!

                                    1. re: Chatsworth

                                      V. cool, Chatsworth -- I knew not about forced rhubarb till your post. It grows like a weed around these parts but outdoors. Thanks. http://britishfood.about.com/od/intro...

                                2. She makes the best chocolate frosting. I continually tried to make it (using the same recipe), but for some reason, mine comes out dry and cracks on the cake...even if I am careful not to add too much powdered sugar. I'm wondering if it has to do with the fact that I heat the chocolate/butter combination and milk in the microwave instead of on the stove?

                                  The recipe is simply:
                                  1 box powdered sugar
                                  1/4 cup butter (I've tried using a little more which makes the icing super tasty but doesn't seem to fix the problem.)
                                  1/3 cup milk, scalded
                                  4 oz unsweetened chocolate (Mom always used Baker's.)

                                  I have finally given up and use the Hershey's recipe instead which works perfectly.

                                  1. Soup. I don't think my skill in making meat soup is as good as her.

                                    1. quiche. my mother made/makes amazing quiche, and mine just doesn't have the same pizzazz.

                                      pie crust. mine's decent, hers was/is award-worthy.

                                      her christmas cookies and candies were and always will be magical.

                                      not my mom's, but my dad's: maybe it's just nostalgia, but he makes the best over-easy eggs with toast. one of very few cases in which i will actually eat eggs not mixed into something (ie, fried rice).

                                      however, my boyfriend insists my toast tastes better than the toast he makes for himself, so i guess (?) i have one dish in my culinary bag o' tricks.... (toast? really?)

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: chartreauxx

                                        I've heard women say that men tend to do eggs well. And it's one of the few things we do well!

                                      2. My mom's scrambled eggs. My kids love grandma's scrambled eggs - or "hot eggy" - but try as I might, mine never tastes the same.

                                        1. No magic, my mom's is just a fabulous and amazing cook.

                                          There is literally nothing that she makes that I can even come close to.

                                          2 Replies
                                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                              Not really.

                                              Not sure why you would think so.

                                          1. Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches. They're always the best when she makes them.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. I don't come close to the grace my late mom had, in the kitchen or out.

                                              She was talented, nuturing, and patient in the kitchen...she was a savvy, creative, and intuitive cook...knew just what to make when I was feeling poorly, and made holiday meals and Sunday dinner with aplomb. Classy gal, my mom. Miss her awfully.

                                              And Khan...my mom rocked out pork chops, too...and always with applesauce, and always on the bone. Good stuff, those.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: pinehurst

                                                Yeah, on the bone is a must. The only thing I'll use boneless chops for is dicing and incorporation into a stirfry or green chili.

                                              2. Gumbo! It is because she sits on a stool in front of the stove for a solid hour and cooks the roux, slowly stirring the whole time.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: pagesinthesun

                                                  Ah, Gumbo is an art.

                                                  Fortunately, my wife is a master, so long as she sticks to HER recipe, and does not listen to other family members, her late mother included. Her Gumbo is to die for, and better than any that we have ever had, all around the Gulf Coast.

                                                  I am fortunate, in that my wife is a great cook, and exceeds my mother's capabilities greatly, plus her mom's, and all of her family's greatly. She has no peers from either side of the family, and I reap those benefits.


                                                2. My mother used to make a fabulous stone fruit and black pepper sauce to slather on steaming hot siopao when we got home from school. I believe it was a plum sauce, but I can't be entirely sure. With her gone, along with her chicken siopao and plum sauce recipe, it's a taste memory I likely won't soon recreate.

                                                  1. salad vinaigrette. she just has the touch.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: C70

                                                      I had an aunt like that. I know what you mean. It's like five ingredients that I can't get perfect.

                                                      1. re: C70

                                                        That's me, too. My mom never mixes her vinaigrette separately - everything just gets sprinkled on top of the salad and its perfect!

                                                      2. A knitted sweater. Though I crochet better than she did. I have a larger cooking repertoire than my mother did, and can execute hers without difficulty because I have her pots and pans. I could never make pot roast as good as hers until she gave me her naked cast iron Dutch oven before moving to Florida, where she didn't intend to cook heavy meals. That pot is infused with decades of herbs and umami.

                                                        I think not enough consideration is given to equipment when people bemoan their inability to recreate a family favorite.

                                                        1. Nothing.

                                                          Sadly, our late mother was a terrible cook. Even she admitted it. She just wasn't interested in food as an aesthetic experience.

                                                          Except for Holiday Turkey Dinners. And those we learned to do just as well if not better by gradually taking over, under her supervision, as she aged. She was happy we did, and proud of having two sons beavering away in the kitchen.

                                                          Well, no, upon reflection, maybe a few of her Christmas cookies. But some of them we've bettered so successfully it still makes us cry and laugh at the same time, remembering how long and hard she fought some of those recipes year after year.

                                                          After almost ten years, she's still sorely missed, and many people are carrying on fine traditions in her memory. But the food's a lot better.

                                                          1. Another one here with a Japanese mom. I agree about the sushi rice, though I saw her make it a million times. She would scoop out the cooked rice into a small metal tub and would fold the rice over while holding it in front of our window air conditioner to cool it down. She would then add the vinegar and the whole room would smell of it. Depending on what she was making, she sometimes added perfectly roasted sesame seeds. My vinegar rice doesn't come close.

                                                            She also made the best futomaki ever.

                                                            Finally, her French fries, of all things, were without peer. No idea why, but they were heaven.

                                                            1. Two things: green beans and biscuits. She was southern, so green beans literally cooked all day. I've tried the long and slow cooking, even with bacon grease, and mine just don't match up. Biscuits I've bemoaned about before here--she used plain old APF, never measured a thing, and her biscuits were heavenly.

                                                              1. Scrambled eggs. I don't know how she does it. They're the absolute best and I can't even come close. Also this "family" recipe that involves Uncle Ben's wild rice. I swear she leaves some important step out.

                                                                1. Based OP's title alone I would say children. I mean come on those of you who have met me know what a job my mom did. Who could top this??

                                                                  Regarding food, not too much of anything, Mom wasn't that great of a cook.

                                                                  1. Well, I need to expand on things by a generation. My paternal grandmother did a red gravy, that was exquisite, and especially when served over white rice.

                                                                    Unfortunately, my wife never tasted that dish, and no one in my family had a clue. Fortunately, when she was down, staying with us, I "cut classes," and spent a day with her. We shopped for the ingredients, then she made it, when we got back home. I wish that I had paid very close attention to every ingredient, and to every nuance, but I was only about 6, so never thought that we would be without her red gravy.

                                                                    Later on, my wife and I have tried to recreate the dish. We worked on it for many years, with me dredging up memories, and incorporating them into the dish. Finally, after several years, and many attempts, we came very, very close.


                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                      Hunt, is that the same as redeye gravy?

                                                                      1. re: pine time

                                                                        No. Totally different. This was an Irish dish, and goes something like this:

                                                                        Crispy bacon in a cast iron skillet - save the grease

                                                                        White onion, heavily caramelized to just about burnt (important, and I mean "just about burnt"), cooked in bacon grease, from above.

                                                                        One can of Tomato Paste, and one can of Tomato Sauce.

                                                                        Add fresh parsley, finely chopped, and course-ground black pepper, then simmer for about an hour, stirring often with a wooden/bamboo spoon.

                                                                        Refrigerate for 24 hours.

                                                                        Reheat and serve over white rice.


                                                                    2. My mom isn't really a fan of cooking, she does it cause people need to eat., She does enjoy simple baking. And I have no idea how to get fluffy chocolate chip cookies like she does. I've followed her recipe, using her oven, and still, mine are chewy. Not that I don't like chewy cookies, but still. . .

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. Pie and Yorkshire pudding and buttertarts all do not pass the grade in comparison to my Mom's.