Sunday, April 10, 2011

The voice of the teacher

There are certain things that I cannot do without hearing, in my mind's ear, the voice of my mother teaching me to do them.

Ironing a shirt is a prime example. As I lay the collar on the ironing board, my mother's voice tells me collar, sleeves, back, front. I know the drill and have been using it for more than 50 years. Moreover, she's been gone for 30 years. Yet it comes to me in her voice, not mine.

I don't always stick to her dish-washing system, but I hear her telling me to wash glasses first, then silverware, then plates, and finally cookware. The glasses need clean, hot water, and besides, you first wash the things that actually go into your mouth, she said. Rinse by filling a couple of the biggest glasses and pouring from them into the smaller ones. (She conserved water all the way back in the 1950s.)

Mom taught me some basics of cooking, and now that I'm back in the kitchen many little things come back to me, like how to guesstimate the amount of salt and pepper using the palm of my hand. But many of the techniques I now use I learned from Peter. I cook chicken breasts and pork chops in olive oil and garlic, not peanut oil or bacon grease. (Seriously. We had a Pyrex dish on the stove with bacon grease to be used for eggs, and I think sometimes for meat.) I deglaze the pan with a bit of chicken stock and wine; I don't make gravy.

In fact, our whole way of eating is quite different from the way my mother cooked for our family. We mostly eat chicken and fish--and it's not breaded and fried. We steam some broccoli three or four nights a week in place of the canned peas and corn I grew up on. Our salads start with deep green and red lettuces and herbs rather than iceberg lettuce. The convenience of supermarket salads-in-a-bag is one of the wonders of the modern world, as far as I'm concerned. I like to think Mom would have loved them.

When I sit down to make a shopping list, I remember her reading all the ads and making lists for two or three different stores, to get the best prices. Somewhat to my surprise, I've begun to do the same. And although I've only been cooking since I retired four months ago, I also find myself complaining that I've run out of ideas. She often paged through cookbooks and magazines. I've done that, too, but I also have the Internet, where I can compare 100 recipes for lemon poppy-seed muffins.

There's another thing that happens sometimes, when I'm cooking something that delights me. When I'm doing fish or cutlets with fresh lemon slices and a handful of herbs, when I'm whisking a salad dressing into existence (a whisk is a truly elegant device that I've only now discovered), when I'm baking the world's best blueberry muffins (even better than my own mother's!), I think how pleased she'd be to see me moving beyond what I learned all those years ago. It's what she intended when she taught me how to grease a cookie sheet and how to make a buttermilk substitute (add a spoonful of vinegar into a cup of milk). She died 30 years ago and I've missed her often, but as I've taken up cooking again I find that she's good company.

22 comments:

Retired English Teacher said...

Oh, I loved this post. I think your mother and mine said the very same things to us. I also hear her voice telling me how to iron, how to measure, how to grease a pan...

My mother is still alive. She will soon be 95. We were talking the other day about how cooking has changed, and how there are so many more varieties of vegetable to choose from than there were when she was raising us.

Your mother would be proud of you, and she also would be intrigued by the recipe availability and the choices of foods. Mostly, she'd be touched to know that you remembered her and the lessons she taught.

Teresa Evangeline said...

How very touching. I, too, recall the lessons my mother taught me. You've recounted yours so well here. The bacon grease was always present in our house, too. It is interesting, how our mothers return when we are reminded of all they taught us. I often feel my mom's presence when writing. She was the first to encourage me. Thank you for this moving remembrance. I love your closing sentence.

Jeanie said...

I love the thought of your mother keeping you company while you cook. My mother died 45 years ago and though there is so much I fear that I have forgotten, I am often surprised when something about her shows up as a part of me.

Linda Myers said...

My mother kept the bacon grease in a Campbell's soup can, and when I cooked, I did the same.

My mom taught me the same method of washing the dishes. She and I were not close, but the memories that came up while I was reading your post were happy ones. Thanks.

DJan said...

What a nice thought, that your mother keeps you company when you cook. I also think she would be proud of you, and the fact that you keep trying to make your dinners better is pretty wonderful for both you AND your other diners. Hubby is the main cook, uninspired but steady, which is just fine with me!

Colleen said...

I like your mom's system for dishwashing. I think she and I would have gotten along quite well.

I only started cooking a year and a half ago after I got married. May I recommend Everyday Food's "Great Food Fast"? It is a phenomenal cookbook! All of the recipes are easy, delicious, and take less than a half hour to prepare.

Grandmother said...

What a sweet and wonderful post. My mother's teaching about ironing shirts was the same as yours and when I got a job in a laundry between high school and college I became the shirt ironer as a result. It reinforced her method for me and I still love to iron today. It's meditative for me. My mother died 17 years ago and I miss her dearly.

Kat said...

What a lovely post. Yes, our mother's teach us so many things. We used to wash dishes the same way! Thank goodness for dishwashers now-a-days! We too eat a lot of chicken (not fried) and fish.

Marion Williams-Bennett said...

What a beautiful tribute to your MOm and to the powerful lessons of Mother's everywhere!

This post made me realize how every time I put on lipstick (which is a lot!) it's a small tribute to my Mother. Love that.

Thanks for this lovely reminder!

Nancy said...

I've been ironing shirts all wrong.

Linda Medrano said...

My mom has been gone for 6 years this August. I still pick up the phone to call her at least once a week. It's really so hard to believe that she is really not on the other end of the phone.

Julie Magers Soulen said...

Fabulous writing. That generation was wise and conservative about resources and very self sufficient. Oh the good ol' days. Thanks for sharing!

Cheers!
Julie
Julie Magers Soulen Photography

grammy said...

I love that...
My Mom's voice visits me often too....sometimes at the most unexpected moments (o:
I hope my Kids and Grandkids hear me someday.
Loved the nature center experience. I need to find one near to here.

Kristy said...

What a great post, not only about a mother so dear to your heart, but also about the significance of simple things and the pleasure in that.

Deb Shucka said...

What a wonderful post this is! I'll bet your mom is smiling at it from wherever she is.

We kept bacon grease in one of the cast iron skillets that never left the top of the stove. And salads were iceberg lettuce soaked in dressing.

How times have changed.

I really enjoyed the pleasure and joy that lit up every word of this piece.

Paul C said...

Indelible memories from our good teacher mothers. I still have indelible memories of my mother's Saturday afternoon baking of cinnamon buns and raisin bread. I was an eager taste tester.

gayle said...

You are so lucky that you remember the things your mom taught you!

Far Side of Fifty said...

Lovely memories..she would have liked this post..I learned to Iron the same way. I am not certain that my daughters ever iron anything. My Mom was not fussy about the dishes,but my Mother In Law sure was..she followed your Moms way too! She also had a different towel for the pots and pans..the goos white dish towels could never be used on them:)

bettyl said...

That's awesome that you have such great memories of her.

~Rachée said...

How nice! THis makes me want to call my mom.
-r

Thom Brown said...

That's funny; what you describe is exactly the way I ironed my shirts (past tense unfortunately). I used to do all of my own ironing. The sequence, however, wasn't taught me by my mother - not explicitly anyway. I suppose I may have watched her, but it just seemed the best way.

There are many other lessons that I do carry with me though - plus more from my father. It's wonderful to remember and to be reminded to remember. Thanks.

400 Wakeups said...

I simply adore this post. My grandmother was the cook in our family and I was not old enough to be of much help or remember how she did things. My mother is a PhD so she left what little cooking was done to my dad - I've eaten a lot of Hungry Man Dinners in my wee-hood. I had never thought about how I wash dishes or deglaze a pan or iron a shirt but now it makes TOTAL sense. Your mother's legacy is you and all that you are sharing of her and how you are taking it beyond. I can only hope to do the same with my mom!

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