Once Upon a Table

It is the time of year to step up and give a nod to parents of every stripe. We want to hear your family tales and cook the recipes that link you to your family table. Be it about your mother or about the mother who lived next door, we want to hear your stories -- both warm and dysfunctional. It's family, right?

Contributors to Once Upon a Table received a menu of recipes developed especially for Mother's Day. The best stories, lightly edited and condensed, are published on this page.

See also: Tales of eating with Dad


Stories from our contributors

Sally Swift, Managing Producer, The Splendid Table

My mom, though diminutive in size, was a world-class eater. When I was a kid, at the drop of a hat she'd drive 8 miles to the nearest Bridgeman's, where I would watch her pack away a Lalapalooza Sundae. You know the one: eight scoops of ice cream, hot fudge, caramel and butterscotch, marshmallow crème, whipped cream, cherries, and the pinnacle for her, canned pineapple. It was impressive. She was impressive -- a force of nature who loved beautiful bras and underwear. (This will make sense in a minute.)  

She was a great cook and our family meals were events. We lived in rural Wisconsin and she was making egg rolls and Thai (she pronounced it "thigh") curries from scratch. She hit menopause when I was about 10 and suffered brutal hot flashes late in the day. During dinner, you could see them coming on; her face and neck would begin to bead with sweat. She'd optimistically pat at it with a tissue but wind up leaning back in the chair and fanning herself with her napkin. They would keep building and building, and as the heat grew, she would desperately unbutton her blouse, all the while carrying on dinner conversation. Until finally, her back against the wall, she would remove her shirt entirely and finish the meal in her bra -- a beautiful leopard print, or black trimmed in pink.

The dinner would continue. It seemed entirely normal to me.

Jennifer Russell, Producer, The Splendid Table

Jen Russell and mom

Growing up, my Mom was beautiful, kind and good at so many things. Cooking was just not one of them (sorry, Ma!). But it was the 1970s, and women in my Mom's generation were definitely not spending their time in the kitchen. And then there was the food of the 70s -- it was just not a pretty scene. I remember the staples like Banquet Salisbury Steak Dinners. These were "TV dinners," which meant the food was frozen in an aluminum tray. You'd bake it and eat it in front of the TV. And then there was chicken ala king; this was a boil-in-a-bag meal (I like to think of it as early sous vide), which was usually deposited on a slice of toast after it was cooked, and served with whatever canned vegetables were on hand. And then there were the frozen chicken pot pies. Oh, the convenience of it all.

But Mom did care about food. She was a member of our local co-op well before that became trendy. She knew sugar was bad for us, and steered us toward whole grains when she could. And, she did occasionally cook. The telltale sign of one of Mom's homemade meals? The errant ... hair. Completely gross yes, but something we just came to accept, and something that always made her laugh.

My Mom's signature dish in the 70s and 80s was Rice-a-Roni meatballs. I found the recipe. I'm happy to report that my Mom is now one of the best cooks I know. And, I haven't found a hair in one of her meals for years!

Laura Kaliebe, Production Assistant, The Splendid Table

In my house growing up, my mom liked to make each family dinner a formal occasion. Every night, the four of us sat down to a table set with a clean tablecloth, a vase of cut flowers, a full set of silverware (whether we needed it or not), multiple plates and small bowls for every food group, and cut crystal goblets that she filled with water from her mother's fish-shaped pitcher.

Then the food appeared. My dad, sister and I never knew how many courses my mom had prepared on a given night: fruit and cheese, bread warmed in the oven, salad topped with toasted nuts, Italian wedding soup, pasta tossed with Parmesan and lemon at the table, meat that had stewed in wine all day, green beans and broccoli and Swiss chard, cupcakes she happened to pick up at a bakery, homemade raspberry chocolate chip ice cream from the last time she entertained. She didn't own a microwave, but the chocolate fountain saw frequent use.

We pitched in with the dishes and the cooking -- when she would let us. In return for these multicourse meals, her only request of us was that we dine by candlelight. So we did, every single night. My dad would complain that he couldn't see his food. Her solution? Light another candle.

Noelle Carter, The Los Angeles Times

I had to chuckle reading Sally’s story about her mom, because it reminds me of my own mother in a couple of ways. My mom is known for two things: her incredible baking skills, and her fear of spiders. Well, maybe fear isn’t exactly the right word. This woman was -- and still is -- absolutely terrified. She’ll jump and scream at even the smallest of spiders. Growing up, it wasn’t unusual for any of us kids to hear a blood-curdling shriek coming from the inside the house as we played with friends, all the way down the street.

I was maybe 8 or so, and I remember my two sisters, brother and I were fighting in the back of the family station wagon on the way to the mall. My mother drove, chatting with one of her best friends in the front seat. We were heading down the freeway when all of a sudden my mother let out one of her legendary howls. She thought she saw a spider drop from the windshield above her. Before we knew it, Mom was pulling off her shirt and crawling onto the lap of her friend, as her friend struggled to steer the moving behemoth. The fighting in the back stopped, and for a split second I think we all thought it was going to be over. We never did find that spider, but from then on she'd enlist one of us kids to check the front seat before she got in the car to make sure it was clean.

My mother's baking skills are as legendary as her fear of spiders. My favorite mornings growing up, I'd awaken to the sounds of her busy in the kitchen, rolling out freshly risen dough as a pot of oil heated on the stove. I could soon tell by the aromas wafting through the house that the morning was going to be special. Mom was making doughnuts for breakfast.

Before too long, we were picking out our favorites from the freshly frosted bunch. I always chose one of the long johns she shaped using a large dog-bone-shaped cookie cutter. My siblings and I would pile in front of the TV, all four of us propped against the family dog (a very big St. Bernard), devouring her creations as we fought for the remote. We'd savor every last bite, licking the rich chocolate glaze from our fingers as we watched cartoons.

Melissa Clark, The New York Times

In my mother's kitchen, everything is potential sandwich fodder. As long as it's small enough to be squashed in between two slices of bread, chances are that it will be, much to my parent's delight. Brought up on my grandmother's tuna salad with chopped egg and sweet pickle relish, my mother now insists on more exotic fare. Her favorite fillings involve resuscitating doggy bags carried home from fancy restaurants. Growing up, I lunched on the likes of leftover roasted sea bass on a bagel, lamb stew in a pita, soft shell crabs and last night's salad on toasted English muffins.

For my mother, tuna salad now means a mélange of homemade, olive oil-poached tuna with capers and scallions. I've never seen my mother eat a PB&J. Nor did she serve them to my sister and me when we were kids -- which naturally meant that I craved those hydrogenated fat-filled peanut butter and purple grape jelly sandwiches on white bread as if they were candy.

In addition to being an extraordinarily creative sandwich maker, my mother has a theory about sandwiches and the people who eat them.

"Good sandwiches are like interesting people, unpredictable and filled with surprises," she once told me over grilled cheese and tomato at a diner. "Each bite should be a little different, otherwise it gets boring", she continued, rearranging the tomatoes just so, and shaking on a little hot sauce from the tiny bottle she always carried in her purse.

"It's like a conversation. If you can anticipate the next sentence, why bother? If you know exactly what the next bite of a sandwich will taste like, why eat it?"

I was mystified by this at the time (I was 12), but now that I know her better, it makes perfect sense. While the act of eating, like conversation, is a comfort, the content should be an adventure -- transporting and exciting, not dull and predictable.

This philosophy extends to her cooking as well, and prevents her from ever making the same thing twice, even when she tries. What would lamb chops taste like if I added cumin, she'd wonder? Or used mushrooms instead of bacon in that frittata? Her curiosity and intrepidity inevitably win out over the tried and true.

Out of all the things my mother taught me about cooking, this might be the most defining, and explains why I am incapable of making something over again, even when I try. It's just one of the ways I'm my mother's child. And why I love sandwiches.

Stories from our readers

Terri Leckas
At the time we were growing up, it was pretty unusual for a mom to be working outside the home. In spite of working second shift as a "key punch" operator, mom still took pride in having a home-cooked meal on the table every night, with a homemade dessert too.

I learned to cook by finishing off the meal that my mom would start earlier in the day. I made sure the spuds got boiled and mashed, made the salad, or cooked up a mess of pancakes for "breakfast for dinner."

We would bake together too, and that experience gave me the inspiration and confidence to learn cake decorating. Mom had lots of fun making homemade cakes for all of our birthdays; even though the decor was simple, we loved them. These days I share many of my mom's baking recipes at my cake shop. She taught me the importance of a home-cooked meal and time spent eating together.

Katherine Suszczewicz
My mom loved food. For a decade in her 50s, she worked at the FBI Academy at Quantico as a cook. She complained about coworkers, managers and job politics, but she never once complained about the food -- not the volume, not the strain of gigantic pots, not the students and staff who came to the dining hall -- not once. She was there for the food.

She once was irritated that someone had come to tour the kitchen and was messing up her rhythm. It was Janet Reno. She didn't seem to mind so much when Chuck Norris came to tour though, and she was pleased that he was shorter in real life. I suspect she encountered more notable people there and their identities escaped her -- she was there for the food.

Mom was diagnosed with a stage 4 glioblastoma in her brain in June of the year she passed away. She suffered the effects of what looked like a stroke right off the bat. Her ability to cook was stolen. Her right hand incapacitated, she could no longer hold a fork, chopsticks, her no. 10 French knife. She was reduced to eating with her undominant hand -- food just wasn't the companion and inspiration it once was.

Driving past the Seafood Piers in D.C. on the trek through the city for radiation, mom decided she wanted tako (octopus). Her oldest friend had come up from Florida to visit, and she was now assuming the duties of preparing some food for mom, a huge measure of comfort. She would put out a feast of foods that mom knew by heart: Japanese pickles, rice and the tako. She took me to the kitchen and showed me step by step how to wash the critter, beat it up, salt it, scrub it, boil it and cut it down for presentation. Mom was so delighted.

I wish now that I had left and not filled her house up with all the bustling. I wish I had left her to be with the food alone. I wish I hadn't been there when she said, "I can't chew it." She gave up shortly after that and let go.

Hannah Ringler
When I was a preschooler, around 3 or 4, I became interested in chocolate for the first time. I begged and begged my mother for a taste of her very nice chocolate, and she told me, "No, you're a child, you couldn't possibly enjoy it."

But I wouldn't stop begging, and one day, she decided to test her hypothesis. She gave me a square, and my eyes rolled back in my head in pleasure. With some regret, she conceded that I did, in fact, love chocolate, which began our long-standing mother-daughter tradition of baking and eating chocolate recipes together -- cake, biscotti, and of course, my mother's seriously chocolate secret brownie recipe.

Claire Campbell
My mom follows the tradition of the other women who came before her: no recipes, no set ingredients. I'm sure all moms have their recipes that they don't even need to think about to assemble, but really, my mom has one recipe for toffee that she follows to a T -- aside from it, nada.

When my sister and I were headed to college, we begged for her to make a cookbook, and she did. Hours and hours later, she produced a cookbook that she classified as "abridged" because she couldn't possibly include all the variations of each recipe without cutting down all the trees on earth. From gumbo to a family recipe for Nestle Road pie, everything can be modified if you've forgotten to grab something at the store or you've only got 1 cup of flour.

All except that beloved toffee, which she pores over to ensure the temperature of the candy is exact to the degree, the layering of ingredients (once I almost lost a hand when I dumped the nuts before the chocolate) and the resting period where nobody dares to snarf one of the edges that's crumbled.

Amanda Callahan
When I was about 13, my sister and I were in the car headed home after being away for the summer. She was telling us about this new recipe she had made, broccoli-cheddar-stuffed chicken breasts. She was so excited about it and had prepped everything so that when we got home, all she had to do was pop it in the oven.

My sister and I exchanged knowing looks of "we will be going out to eat tonight." When we got home, sure enough there was a beautiful plan of stuffed chicken breasts that she popped in the oven. We talked about our summer over prepping a salad, and ended up having a wonderful meal.

We were so impressed that our mom had pulled off this complicated recipe. So impressed that we told her to go relax and we would clean up the kitchen. While cleaning the kitchen, we discovered the truth: The chicken breasts were store bought from the deli section and she had just followed the directions for reheating. We laughed so hard and vowed to never tell her that we uncovered her secret.

Katie Mugg
Growing up, I was in touch with a handful of different countries and cultures through my parents. Through various connections they befriended people from Botswana, China, and Nairobi to name a few, and would invite these friends to dinner. I cannot remember a day when I thought this was abnormal, to me it was quite normal, if not expected that an international guest would be joining us for dinner on any given night.

Through those interactions, I grew to understand a bit about the countries from which they came. As I grew older, my parents' circle of international friends increased and began including people from Colombia, Australia, Congo, Ghana and Japan. By this point, I'd grown to love seeing different faces at the dinner table and sharing a meal and a conversation with our guests. I'd sometimes ask mom if anyone was coming to dinner. On the occasions she said "no," I was disappointed.

Now that I am older, out on my own and have begun my own family, I always enjoy opportunities to host a meal. My husband and I certainly don't have the same wealth of international connections that my parents do, but even when we're dining with "regular Americans," I relish the time because I'm doing what my parents did: opening your home, your lives, with the intent of entering into someone else's life.

I learned how to cook in my mother's kitchen. But more than that, I learned that food is not simply something that's eaten to satisfy hunger, it is something to be enjoyed in the presence of family and foreigners, something that can bring people together, spark conversations, and warm a person's soul.

Audra McCoy
My mom is passionate. She embraces life and lives the hell out it. She is also very generous. Her name is Barbara, and she is a beautiful, creative, Southern woman. Those elements of her personality are very present in the the food she prepares. She enjoys cooking and sharing meals with the family and any friends who drop by. There is always plenty to eat.

We had dinner every night, even though she held down a full-time job and worked as much overtime as possible to take care of us. I remember the dinners she made in the crock-pot -- always soft, creamy and homey-tasting. She was the first to add cream of mushroom soup to her casseroles and make a sauce -- back in the 70s or early 80s it was innovative, yummy and clever. She was the first one to introduce us to tacos made at home -- the crunchy half-moon shells stuffed with ground beef, cheddar cheese, lettuce and salsa.

I loved her pancakes. One morning, she mistakenly used the packet of lemon pound cake mix instead of pancake mix. We could not stop telling her how tasty they were. To this day, I will take a quality cake mix with good flavor, such as lemon poppy seed, carrot, banana or chocolate, and make "gourmet" pancakes. That little mistake is now our family tradition.

Lisa Christoph
My siblings and I grew up in the '60s, when most of our friends and neighbors had PB&J for an afternoon snack. Our family was different: In the refrigerator was always a stainless steel bowl with pickled cows heart. If we got someone to try it, they liked it.

Joel Lafayette Fletcher
My mother was educated at the now defunct Mississippi Synodical College for Young Ladies in Holly Springs, Mississippi, where she learned to be a lady, but not to be a cook. Indeed, she was quietly proud of being helpless in the kitchen. It showed that she had never had to do that sort of thing. As a college president's wife, she did a great deal of entertaining, but rarely found herself behind the stove. That was not her place.

When she did find herself behind a stove, she usually burned whatever was in or on it, and she had developed a somewhat fatalistic attitude. When I returned to live near her in the 1970s, she found peculiar an effective remedy I had for an upset stomach, one that was common in Europe, but almost unknown in Lafayette, Louisiana: charcoal tablets that calmed intestinal turbulence and absorbed the poisons. Once when she saw me popping them, she told me: "I don't know why you're wasting all that money buying charcoal when all you have to do is ask me to fix lunch."

In the course of a long, gracious, and, on the whole, very happy life, she did master a few, a very few recipes for those occasions when a cook was not available.

Late in life she devised this recipe for Gin Soup as a first course. The amount of gin she used depended on her estimate of how palatable she thought the second course was likely to be. If it appeared that it was turning into an unavoidable fiasco, she poured with a heavy hand.


  • 1 can of condensed consommé, diluted with one can of water
  • 1 pint of half-and-half
  • A pinch of dried tarragon
  • A dash of Tabasco
  • As much gin as deemed necessary

Mix ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Serve.

Serves four.

Mary Ann Fink
My grandma taught me how to make the best bread in the world when I was 10 and she was 90. I am teaching my grandkids now, even though I am not 90.

Jessica Edwards
My maternal grandmother lived in the small community of Cando, North Dakota, where my mom grew up. Cando was a whole 1.5-hour drive away from us -- so far for a kid that it seemed like it was the other side of the moon. Going to visit Grandma Clara was always an adventure. She lived "in town" whereas we lived "on the farm." Visits to grandma's house usually surrounded special occasions: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, funerals.

No matter what the occasion or time of year, the first dinner of our stay consisted of Tuna Noodle Hotdish, slices of Wonder bread (amazing to us since mom made homemade bread or bought whole grain), butter, and jelly. We always looked forward to Tuna Noodle Hotdish. It was nothing unique -- your standard cream of mushroom soup, cooked egg noodles, cans of tuna fish mixed together and thrown into the oven. But Grandma Clara put her own spin on it by adding jars of pimentos and topping it with crunched up, ridged potato chips. I think the chips were added to appease my dad, a potato farmer. Cando was in the middle of durum country.

Thanksgiving was a huge affair, and one of the few occasions where we spent time with many members of my mom's extended family. We had the usual Thanksgiving staples -- the enormous turkey, piles of mashed potatoes, gravy, etc. But for dessert -- I wouldn't go with boring ol' apple pie or pumpkin pie. I wouldn't go for pie at all. I always had Grandma Clara's Peppermint Dessert.

It was a frozen, pink, pepperminty, ice cream-like concoction made of a child's dreams. Cut into squares, it was like a mini peppermint ice cream cake on a bed of graham cracker crumbs. I remember checking the freezer the night before to make sure the pan was nestled amongst the bags of frozen vegetables and butcher paper-wrapped roasts. No matter how much I stuffed myself, there was always room for peppermint dessert.

I am so glad to have the recipe. Whenever I make it (for Thanksgiving, of course), I think of my Grandma Clara. I think she would approve.

Jeanne Foels
My mother was an extraordinary baker. Having worked in test kitchens and demonstrated Corning glassware on talk shows, she knew all of the tricks for precise baking. I'd peek over the counter as she worked, learning to lightly spoon flour into the measuring cup instead of packing it down and gently fold in the wet ingredients to muffins to avoid air pockets and always, always check the sides of liquid measuring cups to get an accurate read.

Her favorite endeavor was making ridiculously elaborate themed cakes for my brother and me -- Olympic rings, three-dimensional Easter baskets, dinosaurs, Frisbees, bunnies and bears. I imagine these creations were as much a creative outlet for her as a gift to us.

My mom passed away 13 years ago, but I can still vividly picture the way she gently pursed her lips while she focused, letting a little air whistle in and out as she measured and folded and mixed. Sometimes I catch myself doing the same thing.

Alyssa Johnson
Every summer, my mom and I rise early and make the half-hour drive to a local raspberry patch. We park the car, ride a wagon pulled by a four-wheeler out into the patch, and are assigned to a row of berries (we usually suggest the one with the droopiest, fullest bushes).

We work together to collect every single ripe, juicy, dusty raspberry from the whole row. When our buckets are full, we dump them into our cardboard flat and continue picking. The best part of this berry patch is that eating while picking is completely allowed and encouraged, so we end up eating about every third berry we pick. When the row is completely harvested, we walk back together along the dusty path to pay for our gems.

On the ride back into town, we both sneakily "taste test" the raspberries, forgiving the fact that they're covered in dust. There's a Dairy Queen located on the side of the road as we enter town again. It's located right on the town's lake, the order window is outside, and the shop is only open during the summer months.

We both order a small cup of vanilla soft serve, and then we pile a couple handfuls of fresh berries on top of the cream. We savor the cool, smooth ice cream with the sweet, juicy berries as we make the rest of the drive home.

We never tell the boys about this tradition. They still don't understand why anyone would wake up early to go picking for 4 hours and pay $20 for berries. It's a mom-daughter thing that I look forward to every summer.

Neal Ferrari
Mom always cooked a variety of meats for my sister, father and I even though she was a lifelong vegetarian. In order to help her, my father bought a microwave. Mom did not quite understand the concept that it would cook the meat quicker. To her it just looked like a fairly small oven and she decided to use to humor dad. The first roast went in for 2 hours. You can imagine what happened.

Luri Owen
My mom loved to cook and can. She was famous for her applesauce, pickles, chicken dressing, peanut brittle, fried apple pies and pound cake. For many years she kept a sourdough starter and regularly baked and gave away sourdough loaves. One Thanksgiving when I was in college, I arrived after an 8-hour drive to find her asleep on the couch. She roused, looked at me, and announced, "I baked seven pies today." She went right back to sleep, and I went to the kitchen to sample the pies.

Mom didn't believe in "wait" when it came to food: When something was ready to be eaten, anyone in the house could help themselves. If she was cooking something for a specific occasion, she always made enough to have a few sampler servings. She turned a deaf ear to people who claimed not to be hungry, and the coffee pot was rarely empty.

A new neighbor family had two young sons who took to ringing the doorbell and running away before she could answer. One day she waited for them and had the door open almost before a finger could reach the doorbell. Her greeting? "Any time you ring my doorbell, you better be prepared to come in and drink some Kool-Aid with me!" I'm sure there were cookies to go with the Kool-Aid as well.

Christina Demorest-Sugg
I have very fond memories of summers on the South Dakota prairie. My mom's mom, Dagny, seemed to always be busily bustling about her small kitchen. Mom remembers endlessly peeling potatoes with her two sisters, preparing meals for family and farm workers. Dagny was famous for her rib-sticking beef stew. My dad, a midwestern farm boy himself, said it was the best he ever tasted.

Sometimes we were sent behind the house to the large, neat garden. Grampy could often be found hoeing between the rows of sweet corn. My sister and I were tasked with bringing back whatever could be added to the stew: fresh sun-warmed tomatoes, green beans, corn, basil, onions and, of course, potatoes.

Christmas time back East meant the Christmas package. Always eagerly awaited, it would arrive regular post in a brown paper-wrapped cardboard box. Mom would gingerly bring it to the kitchen table for unwrapping, my sister and I hovering around her. The parchment would be opened to reveal Grammy's holiday baking: lefse, krumkaker, and sour milk donuts were among our favorites. Mom would save the krumkaker, a Norwegian version of cannoli, for Christmas dinner. She would hand whip fresh cream, add a touch of sugar and vanilla, and serve them on her finest platter at the end of the meal.

Martha Pope
Seeking relief for my father's poor health, we moved across the country frequently. Lacking financial stability, moving was more like a camping expedition: household goods in a small, open trailer, sleeping arrangements in and around the trailer or the car seats. Mother faithfully cooked breakfast and supper with a camp stove or campfire every day. She dealt with problems and disappointments quietly but sternly -- no tears or complaints, just carry on.

I remember vividly being awakened one night by my mother's angry cries. As I investigated the frightening situation, I saw mother running through the desert, nightgown held high to avoid the cactus, butcher knife in hand, chasing a coyote who had broken into the food box and that was escaping with the entire slab of bacon. The coyote won.

Mother returned to camp and collapsed into my father's arms, tears of frustration streaming down her face. We, of course, carried on without bacon, and my father comforted mother while hiding his amusement.

Ronna Welsh, Purple Kale Kitchenworks

I spend a good deal of my workday in the test kitchen, developing strategies and recipes for the home cook. But it's the editing that is one of the most important final steps in bringing a recipe to print. Writers as well as cooks, we take particular care with a recipe's headnotes, which explain the sentiment behind and clarify important details about a dish.

If only we would do the same to document heirloom recipes. My mom has archived hers on index cards, ordered in acrylic office supply holders, with lettered tabs. But her headnotes are passed along orally and by request, typically over a long-distance call from my sister or I around holiday time.

It is often in listening to my mom give a recipe that I receive a recitation of serious truths, about food, family, and relationships. "Now, Aunt Else likes putting in all those spices, but Granny didn't and I don't either. I like my carrot cake straight and plain. And no one makes it like mine."

A dish may reflect our larger cultural tradition, but a really prized family recipe represents a person's pride, taste, and personal values. About her hamentaschen: "You can add fancy spices and use more expensive dried fruit, but I like the traditional fillings." By tradition, of course, she means using the brand of tinned fruit pulp she's purchased at "the Acme" for 40 years.

In my mom's case, her recipes reflect a commitment to a kind of straightforward practicality that does not shortchange taste. Whereas others may put herbs in their matzoh balls, she prefers just air ("seltzer is the secret") and makes three per person, "because two is stingy." She makes her famous apple pie and carrot cake without any "of those other spices" and she allows enough for everyone to eat more than their share. She does not cultivate a signature culinary style, beyond simple abundance.

If the headnotes are so important, it's no wonder we find ourselves frustrated trying to recreate a favorite old family recipe, long after the recipe's maker and keeper is gone.

Without these headnotes, my mother's recipes lose her voice, her definitive point of view, and, ultimately, their true distinction. They float adrift in circles of American Ashkenazi Jewish food, unanchored from our family's shores. Quantities and ingredients are never as important as commands like "do not overfill and pinch really tight" repeated several times in a short phone call.

Kelly Hams-Pearson

My mom was not a good cook and not a bad cook, but more of an experimenter. While other kids were having spaghetti and meat sauce, sloppy Joes or tuna casserole for dinner, we were having fried mountain oysters with dandelion greens or reuben sandwiches on homemade pumpernickel bread. These meals were usually the end results of her first or second attempts using a recipe hastily and halfway copied from a television or radio show before the days of "pause." Most meals were quite the culinary adventure -- some evening dinners, out of necessity, ended with a trip through the McDonald's drive-thru.