Perhaps because I don’t have children, I never gave much thought to the importance of good mothers.
I took the good mama I had for granted. Yet, often when I do things she taught me, such as making biscuits or putting pieces of broken clay in the bottom of a pot when I plant flowers, I remember her teachings.
Sometimes we’d come in from church and she’d say, “Let me go in here to the kitchen and see what I can throw together to eat.”
I never once knew my mama to go to the store to buy a missing ingredient for a recipe. She either substituted ingredients or made something else.
One time, after I had built a house practically in her backyard, she called and said, “I just got some hot Mexican cornbread outta the oven. Come over here and get some.”
I did a double take at the phone. Mama was an Appalachian cook. It never occurred to me that she had even heard of Mexican cornbread.
Oh. My. Goodness. It was the most delicious stuff I’ve ever tasted. I ate half the skillet.
“Where did you get this recipe?”
“I made it up.”
I pressed her. “How did you know to make it up?”
“I read a newspaper story about putting corn and cheese in cornbread so I experimented.”
I walked over to a kitchen drawer, pulled out a pen and paper. “We need to write this down.”
She was reluctant. She was a free spirit when it came to cooking but, finally, she managed to remember what ingredients she put in but not the measurements. Those she happily improvised.
I’ve become that same kind of cook. I take the basics of what I know about cooking and create dishes all the time. As soon as Tink says, “This is fantastic!” I run for pen and paper. That’s how I wound up with his favorite spaghetti recipe of all time.
Thank you, Mama.
She did an even better job with my sister, who is known as one of the best cooks in the country. She’s incredible. Seven-layer chocolate cakes, chicken pot pie, vegetable soup and anything else you can name. Trust me on this: If you ever have a chance to sit at my sister’s Sunday dinner table — or especially when she cooks for the preachers (she really shows off then) — DON’T turn it down. It will be the best country meal of your life, with a bit of dazzle thrown in.
She taught my niece, Nicole, to cook. She’s a mother of five so she doesn’t have the time to make the elaborate dishes that her mama makes — she buys frozen yeast rolls, for instance, or a roll of frozen corn then adds lots of butter to doctor it up — but she’s a smart cook who knows how to whip up tasty meals and stretch a dollar for a family of seven.
Nicole is a physical therapist. She is always working at least one job or adding part-time work if her best friend, also a PT, needs help. On top of that, they are in church three to four times a week and going to ballgames from here to kingdom come.
One day, exhausted, she dragged into the house. Her daughter, Zoe, who was 12 at the time, asked, “What’s for supper? I’m hungry?”
Wrong question at the right time. Nicole slapped her hand on the counter. “Zoe Burkett, I’ve been up since 4:30 a.m. and I didn’t have time for lunch. If you want to eat, you need to learn how to cook.”
Zoe shrugged. “Okay.” This young lady does nothing halfway. Perfection is always her goal. Four years later, she is well on her way to becoming the best cook in the family.
It didn’t start with the right ingredients, either. Just like with the rest of us, it started with Mama.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column publishes weekly.