I hear from my older siblings that Mama used to cook. I remember Mama telling me, “What’s the point? If I were a great cook you’d grow up, leave home, and miss my cooking. This way we’ll all be a lot happier. You’ll see.”
Well, I know I grew up on a quirky diet, that is for sure (noodle bombs, the fear of those grapes “chock full of sugars…”). The three things Mama really cooked well were the stuffing for turkey (Pepperidge Farm seasons a mean bag of stuffing), chili, and fudge.
The Thanksgiving turkey always had the potential for disaster. There was the year somebody forgot to turn the oven on. There was the delicious year Mama cooked the creature upside down and we got the tenderest turkey ever. Then there was the year that the ovens (yes, there were so many of us we had two ovens) broke and Mama grabbed one side of the turkey pan and one of my sisters grabbed the other side and they hurried the turkey-sized-for-twenty over to the neighbors’ house to bake it. It was a regular Thanksgiving Day Parade with five more of us carrying the side dishes and pies over behind the turkey.
But the Pepperidge Farm stuffing? Always perfect.
Chili was a free-for-all-who-can-stand-the-heat contest. A visiting rascally cousin urged Mama to make it spicier. The chili pot was simmering on the stove and whenever cousin walked by the chili, she added more spice. Mama did the same. Fearing potential boring blandness, each and every one of us did the same thing. Dinner time came, and we dished that deep red-pepper colored goodness into our bowls. Each one of us had a smirk, thinking how the others were going to get burned. We were not smirking seconds later, as we rolled spices over and around out tongues desperately trying to free our mouths from the hellish concoction.
And the fudge? Mama had been an army nurse during World War II. At some point in Mama’s nursing career, Mamie Eisenhower came around and chatted with the nurses and shared her fudge recipe. That is one Mama always (okay, almost always) got right. Nice thing about fudge is that even failed fudge has few ill effects.