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Remembering Mom’s Magic For Many People, There Will Never Be Any Cooking As Good As Mother’s

By Rick Bonino Food Editor

CORRECTION: 5-21-97; D3 A recipe for Rhubarb Custard Pie in the May 7 edition of IN Food called for “about 1/3 cup butter (about the size of an egg).” The correct amount should be 1/4 cup; too much butter can keep the custard from setting. We apologize for any inconvenience.

In a less enlightened time, they were possibly the four most feared words that a new bride could hear.

“Honey, it’s good,” her husband would say after digging into a seriously slaved-over dinner, “but … it’s not like Mom’s.”

Today, of course, that kind of comment might buy you a black eye and a week’s worth of Budget Gourmet.

But Mom’s home cooking is still the stuff of misty-eyed memory - magical concoctions that could cure the sick, and make the healthy think they’d died and gone to heaven.

With Mother’s Day approaching on Sunday, we asked IN Food readers to share some memories of - and recipes for - the things Mom used to make.

Not that recipes are a requirement where moms are concerned.

“My Mom was a wonderful person and a fabulous cook, but I was amused when you ask for a favorite recipe as I cannot recall my mother using a recipe,” says Marie Yates of Spokane. “It was just a bit of this, a little more of that, for a delicious dish.”

Moms can make the most basic meals a special occasion. Says Newman Lake’s Faith McDavid of her mom, Alberta Brown: “The smell of hot bread, fresh from the oven, the exquisite taste of new potatoes, baby carrots and peas in cream sauce and her rhubarb custard pie with the flakiest crust possible all are very fond memories.”

And on true special occasions, well … “We’d have cherry pie on Washington’s birthday, Lincoln log on Abe’s birthday and shamrock sandwiches on St. Patrick’s Day,” says Marie Bolick of Pullman.

“My mom was not a gourmet cook, but she could do more with ‘nothing’ than anyone I know - except maybe grandma!”

More often than not, Mom learned her kitchen tricks from her own mother, and in turn passed them along to the next generation.

“Before Mom died of cancer seven years ago, she gave me and her two daughters-in-law the best gift - copies of her recipes that she had in her head,” says Teena McDonald. “I typed them as she told me how to make homemade bread and sticky buns, egg noodles and my favorite rice soup.”

Lisa Hussey of Spokane grew up to be a piano teacher, like her mother. She still makes some of her mom’s old recipes, including a quick, filling sausage-and-rice casserole.

“She and my father were killed when I was 19, so I was the chief cook for myself and my three younger siblings - and whoever else my brothers brought home,” Hussey says. “I became very familiar with many of mom’s recipes and cookbooks!”

Lynn Brown of Spokane, who was raised by her grandmother, learned some her secrets - like adding two extra eggs, a tablespoon of molasses and a dash of pepper to the Famous Pumpkin Pie recipe on the Libby’s can.

But there’s more to Mom-style cooking than meets the eye, as Brown learned when trying to imitate her grandma’s Sunday chicken dinner.

“I was 11 and working toward a cooking badge for Pioneer Girls,” Brown says. “I had seen this dinner prepared many times, so knew I could do it with no help. Well, the chicken was kind of gummy and underdone, the mashed potatoes had hard little undercooked lumps and the gravy was totally inedible.

“My grandparents tried to be polite and encouraging, but my two younger brothers were merciless as only little brothers can be.”

Lee Luckey’s mom made a big pot of tomato soup on the wood-burning stove as the standard Sunday night supper for him and his nine siblings, served with warm homemade bread and freshly churned butter.

“I have been a chef for 45 years and have not been able to quite get the same taste she used to get,” says the Spokane man.

Moms are resourceful enough to wring those special flavors out of some of the simplest ingredients. When times are tough, necessity makes mothers inventive.

Kimberly Madore’s mother, widowed with four children, frequently relied on potato soup - “nothing more than chunks of potatoes, onions, milk and that yellow melted margarine floating on top with flecks of black pepper.

“I thought it was the greatest, and never realized at the time it was all she could make because she couldn’t afford much else,” says Madore, of Spokane. “I have yet to make it for my family, but they’ve heard the story of that wonderful, thin potato soup many times.”

Dee Hilt of Medical Lake always looked forward to the appearance of her mother’s Dutch apple cake during the 1940s. “She made sure we saved enough sugar from our wartime sugar ration to be able to make this dessert occasionally,” Hilt says.

Adds Barbara Skinner of Spokane: “Mom did miracles with a pound of hamburger and veggies from our victory garden.”

Sometimes simple treats are the best, like the Curly Noodles and Mushroom Soup that Erica Walter’s mom used to make. (Recipe: boil noodles, drain, add a can of cream of mushroom soup, heat, eat.)

“Growing up, this was my all-time favorite - so much so that when it came time to pick our birthday dinners, my sister would pick the fanciest restaurant in town and I would choose my favorite pasta dish!” says Walter, of Spokane.

“You can imagine my delight when I was finally able to create this gourmet dish all on my own … Who knew something so simple could turn out to be something so wonderful? Kind of like my mom’s love for her family.”

On his birthday, instead of a cake, Jim Crouch of Spokane always asked for his mom’s mincemeat-filled cookies.

“There are only a select few of us who truly love mincemeat,” Crouch says. “Therefore, the batch of Mincemeat Gems, as I call them, was eaten mainly by me. This was a special treat, since I also had two brothers. They never touched my Mincemeat Gems.”

Today, Crouch’s wife makes the cookies for him. “When presented with a batch of these Mincemeat Gems, it is not the cookie so much that raises one’s spirits but the thoughtfulness … that someone took the time to make a special batch of cookies just for me. It really is a caring act of kindness.”

But when it comes to birthday goodies, Ann Rule’s mom took the cake. Or, perhaps, the pie.

“My sister and I decided that we wanted to have a birthday party for our family dog,” says Rule, of Coeur d’Alene. “Mom made pie crust and made dog food meat pies. Several of my friends showed up with pets and the party was a howling success!”

And when her babies were as sick as dogs, Mom could handle that, too. The king, er, queen of the comfort foods: milk toast.

“Sometimes when I had to stay home from school, my mother would bring lightly toasted bread, covered with warm milk and sugar, up to my room in a pretty bowl on a tray,” says Ann Petty of Spokane. “This warm, soothing milk toast tasted good and made me feel special and pampered, propped up on pillows and listening to soap operas on the radio.”

Adds Elaine Van Horne of Newman Lake: “Looking back, I wonder if perhaps I didn’t say I was sick just so my mother would fix me milk toast. I haven’t had it since I was a kid, and although it brings back fond memories, I don’t believe I would really want it now.”

Soup runs a close second. When Tullia Barbanti was sick, her Italian mother would make a soup called stracciatelle - literally, “little rags” - with a mixture of grated cheese, bread crumbs, eggs, lemon zest and nutmeg boiled in a rich broth.

“I often make this soup and think of my beloved mother, who taught me so many good recipes that I now share with my family,” says Barbanti, a Spokane teacher who makes a commercial pasta sauce and has written a cookbook.

Mom’s medicine for Jane Evans of Spokane was a creamy potato soup. “I still use it to make me feel better, and I’m sure that our two daughters will vouch that I used the method on them,” she says.

“Nowadays doctors say you shouldn’t be given milk products when you have a cold, but it sure worked for me and mine.”

The spiritual powers of Mom’s cooking extend beyond bloodlines.

Jeanette Ping’s 89-year-old mother, Lucy, is famous for her chicken and homemade noodles. Make that homemade chicken and noodles, as Lucy still raises chickens.

“Though she won’t eat one - she says that would be like eating one of the kids - the rest of us devour them without a thought to relationship,” says Jeanette, of Lacrosse, Wash.

Last year, one of Jeanette’s childhood friends was dying of cancer and had all but lost her appetite. “One day, she said, ‘Guess what I lie here and think about? Your mom’s homemade noodles.’

“All I had to do was mention this to mother, and on our next visit we took ‘Sis’ chicken and noodles. It was one of the few things she could still eat and enjoy.”

Mom’s Special French Toast

Pat Rossini of Spokane still makes this breakfast dish of her mother’s for special occasions. “None of us has been able to duplicate her pie crusts and meringue toppings,” Rossini admits.

2-1/2 cups vegetable shortening

2 eggs

1-1/2 cups milk

1-1/2 cups flour

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

8 slices white bread, halved diagonally

In deep frying pan, melt shortening over medium-high heat. Beat together eggs and milk. Sift flour, salt and baking powder together and mix well with egg mixture.

Dip both sides of bread in batter and drop into hot shortening, browning quickly on both sides. (Add shortening as necessary to maintain a 1-inch depth in the pan.) Drain on paper towels and serve hot with warm syrup and/or powdered sugar.

Yield: 4 servings.

Grandma Martin’s Mustard

Fran Wells of Newport, Wash., remembers the first time she tried her mother’s homemade mustard recipe: “I ended up with a turkey roaster full of mustard, enough to share with family and friends for a year.” Here’s a scaleddown version.

2 cups white flour

Another 2 cups white flour, browned in oven until medium-brown (about 30 minutes at 350 degrees)

1 (4-ounce) container dry mustard (less for a milder mustard, more for a hotter mustard)

3/4 cup white sugar

1-1/2 tablespoons turmeric

1 tablespoon Accent seasoning (optional)

1/2 cup cooking oil

1-3/4 cups vinegar

Horseradish, to taste (optional)

Mix all dry ingredients while flour is hot. Add oil, vinegar and horseradish (if using) and mix well. Store in refrigerator.

Sunday Chicken and Rice Dinner

“Mom made this dinner almost every Sunday during our growing-up years,” says Jeanette Nolan of Colfax. “As we moved away from home, it was always a treat to come home and eat chicken and rice. Our children and grandchildren have grown up loving this dinner.”

1 fryer chicken, cut up

Vegetable shortening


Onion salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

1 cup long-grain white rice (NOT instant)

2 cups water

1 teaspoon onion salt

1 teaspoon salt

In an electric frying pan, melt a generous spoonful of shortening over medium heat. Dredge chicken pieces in flour, place in pan and season with onion salt and pepper. With lid on pan, fry chicken at 350 degrees until browned on bottom. Turn over, season with onion salt and pepper and brown other side with lid askew on pan. Remove chicken and place in a baking dish in a 350-degree oven to finish cooking while rice cooks.

Drain most of grease from pan, keeping chicken “goopies” in pan for flavor. Pour rice and water into pan at same time; add onion salt and salt. Stir to spread rice around. Bring to a boil, reduce temperature to a simmer, partially shut vent on pan lid and cook for 20 minutes, or until water is absorbed and rice is tender (do not stir).

Serve chicken and rice with creamed corn.

Mom’s Bran Bread

Lurana Redmond’s mother got this recipe as part of a cookbook her co-workers made for her when she quit teaching in 1910 to get married. Redmond, of Spokane, grew up to be a teacher herself and submitted the same dish for another cookbook of recipes from educators.

1 cup graham flour

1 cup whole-wheat flour

1 cup bran

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup dark Karo syrup

1 egg

1 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water

1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour 2 (8-inch) loaf pans.

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. In a separate bowl, mix together liquid ingredients. Add dry ingredients to liquid ingredients, stirring just until moistened; fold in raisins.

Divide batter between prepared loaf pans and bake for 1 hour.

Yield: 2 loaves.

Sunshine Sponge Cake

Nancy J. Neveux Morris, of Moscow, Idaho, remembers how her mother, Georgia Kulp Neveux of Spokane, would dress up this cake for special occasions: “At Easter, she made it with soft green icing and decorated it with coconut and brightly colored jelly beans for eggs. For birthdays, it was made with soft pink or yellow icing and a pretty bouquet of flowers were placed in the center hole, surrounded by candles.”

1 cup sifted cake flour

6 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup sugar

5 egg yolks

1-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind (yellow part only)

2 tablespoons water

1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

Sift flour once, measure out 1 cup, then sift 3 more times; reserve.

Remove eggs from refrigerator several hours before using. Place egg whites and salt in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat until mixture holds up in peaks, but is not dry. Continue beating, rapidly adding 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat only until sugar is just blended in.

Place egg yolks, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, lemon rind and water in a small mixing bowl and beat at medium-high speed until thick. Gradually add lemon juice, beating constantly.

Add flour all at once to egg yolk mixture and stir until blended. Fold into egg white mixture. Bake in an ungreased 9-inch tube pan at 375 degrees 30 to 35 minutes. Invert pan, remove cake and let cool. Serve with whipped cream and strawberries, or your favorite frosting.

Peggy’s Old-Fashioned Raisin-Rice Pudding

Nanette Neal of Veradale submitted this family favorite from her mother, 90-year-old Peggy Rutherford of Hamilton, Mont. - “a ‘super-mom’ long before the phrase came into use, juggling roles as wife, mother of two, elementary school teacher, homemaker, gardener, my father’s partner in business, avid bridge player and active community volunteer.” It’s a tasty way to use up leftover rice from last night’s dinner.

2 cups cooked rice

2 cups milk (heated, but not boiled)

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 large eggs (or 4 yolks), lightly beaten

1/2 cup raisins (optional)


Combine all ingredients except nutmeg in a buttered, heavy casserole dish. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Place dish in a second pan filled with 1 to 1-1/2 inches of very hot water.

Bake, uncovered, in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour, 15 minutes. Pudding is done when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or chilled, in small bowls, pouring a small amount of heavy cream over each serving if desired.

Rhubarb Custard Pie

This was one of the most popular dishes Teresa Reynolds’ mother would make when relatives came over after church for Sunday dinner. “Mom always seemed to pride herself on making something wonderful out of something most people wouldn’t bother with or would throw out,” says Reynolds, of Spokane. “I think this came from my mother’s love of the earth.”

3-1/2 cups diced rhubarb, washed but not peeled

1-1/4 cups sugar

3 rounded tablespoons flour

About 1/3 cup butter (about the size of an egg)

3 tablespoons cold water

3 egg yolks, slightly beaten

Pinch of salt

Unbaked shell for 9-inch pie

For meringue: 3 egg whites, 6 tablespoons sugar

Cover rhubarb with boiling water and let stand 5 minutes. Drain, place in a large bowl and add remaining ingredients, except meringue ingredients. Mix well and pour into pie crust. Bake at 350 degrees until set, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven.

For meringue, beat egg whites to soft peaks; gradually add sugar while beating into stiff peaks. Spread over pie, return to oven and brown slightly.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Staff illustration

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