My mother knew how to follow a recipe. She also knew how to create her own. On one visit to the Homeland – Arthur Street in Springfield, Massachusetts – she made my minestrone soup from the cookbook I sent her. She put it in front of me at the table and watched while I ate. It looked and tasted exactly like mine. I couldn’t believe it. Perfect replication. I was thrilled.
My Dad, who never commented on my mother’s cooking, or anyone’s for that matter, said, “too many mushrooms” as he finished up the soup except for two mushroom slices left in the bowl. He’s the engineer. I could tell by Mom’s face that she liked that Dad said that. I liked it too – that he did that for her.
Another time, Carole made one of my appetizer relishes – only she used California olives instead of Kalamata olives. She told me in advance of me tasting it in front of the whole family. Of course the Kalamata olive was the star contributor to the success of the dish. I asked why did you use the other olive? She said she couldn’t find the Kalamata olives and didn’t even know how to say it. So why in Springfield, Massachusetts can’t you find Kalamata olives in mainstream grocery stores? Maybe because you have to go to a Greek store? Or an Italian store?
Then the crunch of the cracker.
I could hear the collective holding of the Davies breath for about 5 seconds. My sister’s face I still see up close in front of me wondering what my response would be to altering the recipe. Her eyes dance. Her smile coaxes me. She doesn’t know. At that moment nobody knew.
“YOU LIVE”, I said.
The collective Davies held breath ended in a sigh followed by a huge instantaneous, simultaneous laugh by everybody.
It was still good with the bland California olive. But…next time ask the grocer for the olives. And next time I see her I’m going to bring some of that relish with me, so she can see the difference. Hey, if she likes liver, which she does, then she’ll like Greek olives. Kalamata olives are the biggest blood fruit on the planet. That’s what the Greeks are supposed to eat, instead of the actual lamb.
To get back to Mom, she was always clipping recipes from all the women’s magazines she subscribed to. She read a lot, not just about women stuff. I remember her complaining about the fancy calorie-laden desserts they all had on the covers, then inside they were telling women how much they should weigh and how to diet. It didn’t make any sense to her. Then give us some diet recipes instead of all these high calorie ones.
Anyway, when she tried somebody else’s recipe and it didn’t come out as she trusted it would, then there was a flaw in the recipe, not in my mother’s execution of it. She proved that to me my making my minestrone soup when I went home for a family visit. Maybe someone did what Giada De Laurentiis did with her first cookbook – she and her family sat around the table pulling old recipes from their minds while guessing at the actual measurements of the dishes they made, because they didn’t measure back then. They eyeballed.
You know everybody says lose weight (nobody ever said that to Peg Davies, except her), but then all these magazines have pictures of high calorie desserts on the covers. Yeah, and they still do Mom, after all these years.
My mother passed on 14 October 2016, three days before her 90th birthday. Although she was a person short on compliments to her immediate family, she did always say when I called her long distance, “yes, yes, I remember that now. Sharon, you always remember the happy stories for me.” She was right, I did that for her – every single time I called. I wrote happy stories too – just for her.
Now here’s another happy memory Mom. This time I’m sharing it with others, instead of telling a happy story just to you.
Perfect timing. It’s all about the timing – in cooking anything.
And thank you too.
And measuring accurately my engineer father pipes in.
Well, I always measured accurately my mother reminds him with a little indignation.
I know you did. I’m reminding her.
On earth as it is in heaven. Mom and Dad still arguing. I love it and love you two.
Go to bed everything’s good. Just follow her recipe.