“If God had created celery, it would only have two stalks, because that’s the most that almost any recipe ever calls for.”

Today is the quintessential New England fall day. The sun is shining, the sky is a light blue, a breeze becomes a wind then a breeze again and the temperature is in the high 40’s, low 50’s. This is the sort of day when all the fathers in my neighborhood would rake then burn the leaves. Each would stand on the side of the street in front of his house rake in hand as he tendered the fire and fed it leaves. The smoke carried that wonderful smell which still means fall to me. I loved to watch the small fires and listen to the crackling sound the leaves made. I remember the smoky smell stayed on my jacket long after the fire had gone out. I miss that smell of burning leaves. It was my favorite fall ritual.

When I was growing up, my mother was an average cook or maybe I should say cooked average foods or common foods. She knew fancy meals and my father were not a good match, and we four kids would probably refuse to eat something for dinner hithertofore unknown. What is it was usually the kiss of death for any new dish. I’m not eating that said in disgust generally followed my mother’s answer. Potatoes were always mashed and so were carrots to disguise they were vegetables. I don’t know why vegetables had such a bad rap with every kid I knew. Just saying the word gave us a shutter. We knew they’d be at least one on our dinner plates, and we hoped it was a vegetable from the sanctioned list of acceptable vegetables. It was a small list. Peas topped my list and corn of any sort was on all our lists. Creamed corn, though, was not a huge favorite of mine. I always hated how it spread all over the plate and its color wasn’t all that appealing. We seldom left food on our plates because my mother was smart. She always served us stuff she knew we’d eat.

When we were older and our palates had expanded, my mother cooked all sorts of food for us. By then I had gotten over my distaste for vegetables except for beans and Brussels sprouts. Potatoes didn’t have to be mashed and carrots no longer needed a disguise. My mother, it turns out, was a fantastic cook. She had hidden her culinary talents until we were old enough to appreciate them.

I was my mother’s sous chef. It was a huge honor.

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8 Comments on ““If God had created celery, it would only have two stalks, because that’s the most that almost any recipe ever calls for.””

  1. Richard Says:

    Sounds like a nice day in progress. One of the things I wish I’d done earlier is travel to the New England area. Something about a rocky and craggy coastline that makes for good imagery. ‘Course, it’d definitely have to be in the spring, ‘cuz Homey don’t do New England winters. We used to rake and burn leaves in the back yard until the city put a ‘burn ban’ on that practice sometime in the ’50s. Leave it to government to get into things it should properly stay out of. I really liked putting the leaves in the barrel and watching the smoke rise into the sky …

    Unknown to me except now in retrospect, my Mom and grandmothers on both sides were great cooks. Mom and her mother cooked ‘Irish style’ and my paternal grandmother and her daughters all cooked French style. I wish I could have studied their methods of food prep and cooking, but if I’d said that aloud, Mom would have handed me my suitcase and said ‘Don’t come back’ … and yes, you’re correct if you conclude they didn’t quite do the Rodney King ‘Can’t we all just … get a long?’ thing. Can someone tell me what Rodney meant by ‘a long’ .. ?

    Vegetables were always a favorite. Green peas with butter and Ranch dressing, for example. I may have been unusual for liking the typically-disdained cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli, but they tasted great.

    One of Mom’s ventures into Areas New and Different involved sauerbraten. She had never made it before, being in the Irish School of Cooking and all that, but she did one helluva job with it. I still have recipes she inherited from my grandmother, who had an ‘in’ with one of the chefs at Arnaud’s in the Quarter. The recipe for Shrimp Remoulade at first glance appears to be quite simple – until you start making it in accordance with the recipe … then cometh Complexity – and a great finished product. The ‘complexity’ isn’t anything difficult, just steps that most people wouldn’t think to do – and therein lies ‘The Secret’ people pay to taste.

    • katry Says:

      Richard,
      You’d have to go to Maine for the rocky, craggy coastline. Here we have sand, lots of sand. The beaches are wonderful and the bay side warmer than the ocean side.

      The town stopped leaf burning in my town too. Now I think about everything we do to the environment and the burning leaves look small compared to everything else.

      I can’t help you. A long what? Just fill in the blanks. My paternal grandmother was a horrible cook which is the reason my father hated anything with herbs and spices. Her idea of spaghetti was a can of stewed tomatoes over pasta. My maternal grandmother always had lots of us there on Sundays, and she used to keep a huge pot of pasta on the stove. I remember that was the first time I grated my own cheese on the spaghetti.

      I can cook most things and have done sauerbraten. I remember my surprise at the gingersnaps. Cherish those recipes!

  2. olof1 Says:

    We’ve had the first real winter day here, cold and frost everywhere, it won’t last for long though so I’ll enjoy it while it is here. I really don’t like winter as You know but a short visit is never wrong and it is better than constant raining 🙂

    I can’t remember anyone burning leafs here, I guess they forbade it long ago, most people here woulöd most likely do it on a sunny day when the grass is dry so they would start big fires 🙂 Now days everyone either mow the leafs or put them in to their composts. I’m so lazy I just leave them where they are 🙂

    I wish I could say my mother was an average cook but as You know she never has been, as best she’s been just rather bad 🙂 At least it made me start cooking early in life 🙂 🙂

    Have a great day!
    Christer.

    • katry Says:

      Christer,
      I think a short visit is the perfect winter day. Let it snow a bit then melt. I’d be fine with that.

      The leaves fell all over the lawns so they were cleared. If they fell among trees, they’d be left there. Men took great pride in their lawns so the leaves had to go. I don’t clear it-Sebastian, my landscaper, does. He’s out there now clearing the yard. I swear there was a foot or more of pine needles.

      You can say you are a good coo because of your mother!

      Have a great evening!!

  3. greg washington Says:

    in the late 60’s I worked at a camp in the maine woods that catered to kids from the boston area…at meal time we would send a kid up to fetch a bowl or whatever of food. one day this poor kid dropped two bowls of creamed corn. it looked worse on the floor than it did on the plate.

    • katry Says:

      greg,
      I will avoid picturing that in my head. It is, as you said, bad enough on the plate but give a chance to spread out even more, disgusting!

  4. flyboybob Says:

    When I was a kid my sister and I ate all the vegetables my mother served. My mother made us try everything. My father loved a tossed green salad before every lunch or supper because he believed that salads protected us from pellagra. He would prepare the salad in a large stainless steel mixing bowl and serve everyone from that bowl and then eat the remaining salad directly from the big bowl.

    This morning the temperature at the DFW airport dropped to 31F degrees for the first freeze of the year. Soon the leaves will start to turn and winter might get here by January.

    • katry Says:

      Bob,
      We never had a salad at dinner except for summer barbecues but then it wasn’t green but potato. Most of the vegetables were canned back then so those mushy veggies just didn’t taste great. My father’s canned asparagus would bend over if you held one. We did eat a lot of fresh carrots.

      We have had only one frost so far and it looks like we won’t be getting another at least this week. Mostly the nights are in the 40’s.


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