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An Interview with the Undomestic Goddess

Not My Mother’s Kitchen was inspired by my mom, Fran. No, she’s never claimed to be a queen in the kitchen but her attempts have certainly made for some interesting anecdotes over the years and a lot of good natured jokes.  All in all my experiences in her kitchen have inspired me to be a better cook. So let’s learn a little bit more about her culinary point of view and get to the bottom of some unanswered questions from my childhood…

Q: We’ve often joked about the lack of cooking that went on in your house growing up. Did your mother cook and if so what was her signature dish?

Here are some little known facts about my childhood.  First, my father LOVED to cook and he had his own vegetable garden in our yard.  He insisted that our meals consist of one starch, two vegetables and one protein.  I can remember both my mom and dad cooking with the “Pressure Cooker” they made homemade tomato gravy, apple sauce and of course green beans, beets, etc from the garden.  Then one day during an apple sauce making project the pressure cooker exploded and burned off my mom’s eyebrows and then there was no more pressure cooking.

There are two other traumatic cooking memories from my childhood.  The day that my sister Gerry who somehow had it in her head that the doctor who performed surgery on her arm had told her that green vegetables  were making her bones weak and my father had insisted that she just try one pea.  Of course she wouldn’t and sat at the table until it was way passed her bedtime with that single pea on her plate.  It was a war of the wills until she relented and ate the pea and immediately proceeded to vomit all over the kitchen.

The other was the night my mother was cooking my Dad and her favorite dinner Liver and onions.  The kids of course were having something else but the smell of that liver and onions remains with me even today.  You see while the aroma of that liver was filling the kitchen I ran to answer the front door to find two men in suits asking to speak to my mother.  I ran and told her that the men wanted to talk to her and she told me to tell them to go away it was our dinner time but the men told men to tell her that they were from Burrough’s were my father was employed.  I saw the horror on her face and knew right away that something was seriously wrong.  My dad had collapsed and died coming out of work and to this day I can’t stand the thought of Liver and Onions.

My Mom did cook for a little while after my dad died but pretty soon the depression of have having to raise 4 kids alone had set in and there was not much cooking for several years.  Ironically the last job she had was a cook for the priests at BVM where she made outstanding five course meals and loved every minute of it.

When we were young she would make one pan meals – Fried Tomatoes, Spanish Rice, Cowboy Stew, Creamed Chipped beef, Fried Oysters (on Fridays) and her famous vegetable soup, which I wish I could duplicate but I just can’t get the same taste. (Blogger Note:  Recipes below)

  • Fried tomatoes –  Sliced tomato breaded in flour , salt , pepper and then fried in butter and than add milk  the flour, butter and milk combo would make a creamy sauce and the tomatoes would get mushy (delicious) and  then serve with hard bread (for dipping in the sauce)
  • Spanish rice was rice cooked in tomato sauce and chopped green pepper and crumbled bacon.  (one big starch fest)
  • Cowboy stew – cooked ground beef,brow gravy, elbow macaroni, onions, peas and cheese (another variation is with  tomatoe sauce instead of brown gravy)

Q: According to folklore, you only served Swanson TV dinners to dad during your first year of marriage. What was the first “real” meal you made for him?

Believe it or not I attempted to cook a turkey which turned out to be a disaster for many reasons. First, it was still frozen and I had a tiny electric stove which never kept the right temperature and most of all I COULDN’T find the “inners”.  I found the neck but searched and searched but couldn’t find them so I concluded that this turkey didn’t have any.  That’s what I thought until I smelled something not right and it was then I “found” the inners wrapped in paper (charred by then).  I just threw the whole mess out. 

Luckily on the way home from work on Chester Pike was this little family grocer (Genuardi’s) that had pre-cooked stuffed pork chops (they were Dad’s favorite).  Genuardi’s had everything for people like me who just didn’t have much luck in the Culinary department.

Q: How often did you cook for us when we were little? What was a typical meal?

Our typical dinner was usually meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green beans.  Chicken and rice and green beans.  Baked Pork Chops and baked beans and mashed potatoes.  And remember that Knorr’s vegetable soup mix and the artificial crab meat kind of like pasta Alfredo and crab meat? (Blogger Note: Yes – the fake crab meat dish – I actually liked that one a lot!)

Q: Do you have any special memories of cooking with Granny Burke? If so, please share.

Granny Burke lived to cook and loved to eat what she cooked.  She was famous for her Sunday dinners – Roast Beef and gravy, peas and carrots, potatoes and sometimes celery and carrots cooked in the “Pressure Cooker.”  Pop always made the cole slaw – the best in the world – and there was always tons of jello with fruit in their house.  Sometimes if I stayed for the weekend – breakfast always started with a cup of stewed prunes and if we had eggs there was always Scrapple (which I hate and would never eat after tasting it).  My sister Denise really bonded over cooking and baking with Granny.  They both had a love of cooking.

Q: Your aunt had a farm that you used to visit growing up. Did she cook for you as well?

My Aunt Rita lived in an old farm house of which the center was its huge kitchen.  In her kitchen she had her wringer washing machine and big kitchen table and big old stove and a small stove that heated the kitchen.  The only modern part of the house was the upstairs everything else was a typical old farm house.  It had a basement like the one at the Ingleneuk where all the vegetables and fruits and jams and jellies, pickles, etc that my Aunt preserved were stored for use throughout the year.  Again she raised her own vegetables, had chickens for food and eggs, so she was a pretty natural type of girl.  Her best and most memorable food item were her Xmas cookies that we looked forward to every year.  My fondest memory was having my aunt make me lunch and we eat and listen to “As the World turns” on the radio.

Q: One of my first memories of food involved a jelly and American cheese sandwich. My theory is you ran out of peanut butter; you’ve said I asked for this concoction (Reader’s Note: I loathe American cheese to this very day). Let’s set the record straight.

To be honest I don’t know how I got that idea of american cheese and jelly but I think it might have come from Sherly Pompilli. I think Joey liked it and he might have been over for lunch one day and……. I really don’t remember.

Q: Many years ago, Cathey Long taught you how to make homemade pasta. Did we ever actually eat any of that pasta and why did you never do it again?

The Pasta making event was a lot of fun but my God it was so hard kneading that dough and then cutting it and then it had to dry and I had pasta in boxes (drying all over the house).  The hardest part was making the well with the eggs in the middle because my counter top was not even and it kept rolling down and I had to keep trying to knead it as fast as I could – it was a lot of work and hard on the hands and arms.  It was delicious but what an ordeal for a little homemade pasta.

Q: You cooked your first Thanksgiving dinner about 10-15 years ago, correct? Describe that experience.

Once I learned where to look for the turkey innards and read up on prep and cooking times and methods I think I did a pretty good job and in fact I think there is a picture of me and that beautifully brown turkey in our kitchen before it was carved and eaten.  I was really nervous cooking that Thanksgiving because other people would be eating it besides just you, Chris and Dad.  I felt total and utter relief when it was done and I must say emotionally drained.  Now I like cooking for Thanksgiving.  It’s my time to shine. 

Q: Every year on Chris’ birthday you prepared a special London Broil dinner. I remember it well. What I don’t recall is having a special meal for MY birthday. Please explain.

It’s funny I don’t recall you ever requesting me to prepare anything special for you on your birthday – My question to you “Was there any reason you didn’t request anything special” ??  Was it that you rather go to a restaurant then have a “home cooked” meal?

Q: Two years ago you “cooked” dinner for Ryan, me, Chris, Molly, Dad and Katie. The meal suspiciously looked, smelled and tasted like Boston Market fare. Will you fess up??

Okay, okay the food was from Boston Market – but the dishes and silverware were mine! 

Q: You’ve exhibited a preference for canned or frozen vegetables over the years. Have I FINALLY convinced you to go fresh when possible?

 Both Dad and I do prefer fresh veggies over frozen or canned and we have devised our own “Pressure Cooking” system with my pots that steam the veggies perfectly – so tasty.

Q: What was the last meal you cooked?

The last meal I cooked was a veggie burger on whole wheat bun and fresh broccoli and cauliflower combo and fresh corn.

Note: It is amazing how much you can learn by just asking. As many of you know, I never knew my grandfather on my mom’s side. He died when she was 9. I loved hearing about his garden and his meal preparation. I made applesauce for the first time last year, but thankfully my eyebrows remained intact. At least we know the reason for Mom Mom’s sparse eyebrows now! Thank you all for indulging me in a little family history.

Tonight’s meal is Pumpkin Seed Pesto Ravioli and Kale. I’ll provide recipe and details tomorrow.


5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Erin #

    “Was it that you rather go to a restaurant then have a “home cooked” meal?”


    September 8, 2009
  2. cherala34 #

    Erin – allegedly! I did love the Lobster special at Erin’s Pub for special occassions, but I still claim some preferential treatment to my brother in this case. You know how that goes!

    September 8, 2009
  3. Carol #

    Loved reading this! I always remember Grandmom Burke yelling “Feed the Men!”

    September 8, 2009
  4. cherala34 #

    Carol – I particularly liked the part about your mom and the pea. So dramatic:)

    September 8, 2009
  5. Michelle #

    I LOVED your blog today!!! So fun to learn our family history around food 🙂 THANK YOU. You have such a talent, keep ’em coming! (and the recipes )

    September 8, 2009

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