Misbehaving Cooks

Spicy aromas coming from the kitchen made my mouth water. Maybe if I begged Mom, she’d let me taste something. Bracing myself on the stairway banisters, I began to swing down three steps at a time. Before reaching the main floor, I heard Mom yell, “Supper’s ready!”

Daddy and my sisters flowed out of the living room into the kitchen ahead of me. One brother made a bee-line out of his room at the end of the hall to the table and the other brother quickly stepped in from the entryway. They all looked as hungry as I felt. Hints of garlic, onion, oregano and basil hung tantalizingly in the air.

Mom had placed two large jelly roll pans of homemade pizza on the center of our table. One sister exclaimed, “Those look beautiful!” She was right. The crisp crust around the edges were a light golden brown. Although topped with plenty of melted cheese, I could see chunks of meat, pizza sauce and mushrooms below. Beside the pans were shakers of Parmesan cheese and dried peppers.

We said the before meal prayers and quickly sat down at our places. Mom served large, square slices to each person. The pizza was so good, I soon began to look for a second helping. I said, “Mom, you should make these and sell them. Hundreds of people would come and buy them.”

A sister chimed in, “You could have a stand by the driveway alongside the road. People would come from miles away just for a taste of your pizza.”

Another sister asked, “If someone wanted your recipe, would you give it to them?”

Mom laughed, “Yes, I would. I think this recipe came from a magazine, anyway. I’ve heard of some women who were so proud of their kitchen skills though, that if forced to share a recipe, they would make several small changes to it, just to ensure other woman wouldn’t have as much success.”

“That’s mean!” Someone exclaimed. I secretly agreed with and felt shocked that any cook would misbehave so badly.

A year later my Aunt sent Mom a recipe for a red velvet cake. She said someone she knew, knew someone who knew someone who had recently vacationed at a fancy hotel. The restaurant at the hotel served a smooth, delicious red velvet cake. The vacationing person had asked the restaurant for the recipe. They gave it to her, but after the she’d returned home, a bill arrived in the mail demanding $500 dollars for the recipe. According to my Aunt, the woman decided that if she had to pay $500 for the recipe, she’d give it to every person in the countryside to spite the restaurant.

I now know that story was an urban legend. At the time my family, like many others believed it to be entirely true. We swallowed the story red-velvet-hook, line and sinker. The cake was exceptionally good.

There is a more recent misbehaving cook story I suspect is also an urban legend. When everyone asked a woman who made fantastic brownies for her recipe, she always responded, “Over my dead body!”

When the woman passed away, her children had the brownie recipe chiseled onto the back of her tombstone. They explained, “When people asked for it, she always said, ‘Over my dead body’. Now it is, and will be forever.”

As an adult, I now realize Mom’s delicious homemade pizza was not a common food in the late 1950’s. There weren’t even fast food places like McDonalds, Hardies or Burger King, much less Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s. Frozen, grocery store pizza didn’t exist.

My family was privileged to have a mother who was such a good cook and liked to try new things as well as the old. She served everything from old fashioned pork sulse, pickled heart and tongue, to Welsh pasties, beef burgundy, fritters and every Jello desert known to post-war-womankind.

When I was eighteen-years-old and about to marry, I took several recipes from Mom’s kitchen into my new home. Everything that I made, if I followed the recipe as written, turned out very well. So, I’m happy to share that Mom was not only a good cook, but a cook who was good.



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