You’re not going to say I don’t like to cook, are you?” my mother asked when I told her I was doing a Mother’s Day column on cooking with your kids.
Her fear of exposure belongs to a generation when moms cooked, period, and would feel guilty should someone discover they didn’t care much for the ultimate in housewifely skills. Cooking, after all, is nurturing.
We always ate well when I was growing up, but Mom never loved cooking. Small wonder—she had to cook seven days a week for a family of eight.
I joke that the cooking gene skipped a generation on my mom’s side of the family. My maternal grandmother loved to cook. I hated green beans as a child, but not Grandma’s, which were bathed in a creamy sauce. She made ham salad and canned her own vegetables. I still cherish her recipe for Scottish lemon curd, handed down from her grandmother. Her legacy included buttermilk nutmeg cookies and snickerdoodles, the funny-named cookie I learned to make as a child.
Like many good cooks, Grandma wasn’t overly sentimental about where her food came from. My mother remembers her father sitting in the backyard with an axe in his hands, looking sadly at the still very much alive Sunday dinner. “George,” my grandmother said, rolling her eyes, “give me the axe.” And the chicken’s reprieve came to an abrupt end.
For Grandma, cooking was an escape—she had 10 children, and the kitchen had a door on it. “The only time she got any privacy was in the kitchen,” my mother said. “If you came in the kitchen when my mom was cooking, she’d get mad.”
Ironically, my grandmother’s love of cooking is probably why the love of cooking never infected my mother. And it’s probably why it infected me. My mother was all too happy to let her children into the kitchen at an early age. We whipped, stewed, baked and mashed things beyond recognition, and she gamely ate the results and pronounced them “delicious.”
Cold eggs and coffee grounds
Like so many kids, we began our cooking ventures by serving Mom breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day. Cold eggs and toast, a flower if we could rustle one up, tepid coffee—it’s a breakfast mothers everywhere will recognize. One Mother’s Day morning, one of my brothers brought her breakfast in bed, complete with instant coffee crystals floating in a cup of cold water.
The real family legend, though, is the pickle cake—a white frosted cake with chopped up pickles in it. I don’t remember who made it—my brother Randy or me—but after all these years, I can still taste it. You know your mother loves you when she can swallow a pickle cake and smile.
I take after my grandmother. I like to growl at people who invade “my” kitchen. I often have to remind myself that one of the best gifts I can give my kids is a love of cooking—even if it means a mess in the kitchen and a willingness to eat pickle cake.
So, happy Mother’s Day, moms. Pick the coffee grounds out of your teeth and give your kids a big smile. And teach them how to cook. It’ll pay off in the long run.
Virginia Van Vynckt, mother of two, has written extensively about food and nutrition, and is the author of Feed Your Kids Right the Lazy Way.
Makes 4 dozen
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons cream of tartar 1 teaspoon baking soda ¼ teaspoon salt ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature ½ cup vegetable shortening 1½ cups sugar 2 eggs 3 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease cookie sheets. With a fork or whisk, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Cream the butter and shortening with the 1½ cups sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. On low speed, beat the flour mixture into the egg mixture until well blended. Pinch off pieces of the dough and roll into 1-inch balls. (If the dough is too sticky, refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes first.) Roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place on the prepared cookie sheets, leaving at least 1½ inches between the cookies. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the snickerdoodles are golden and crackled on top. Remove to wire racks to cool.