Few memories are more emotionally charged than those of Mom comforting us with her cooking. There were moments when nothing made us feel more secure or deeply loved than those spent watching a favorite grandmother roll out dough to make us one of her best pies.
So it came as little surprise when the mailbox was flooded with responses to our request for your family's favorite recipes from mothers and grandmothers.
We received stories and recipes with memories so touching we almost needed a box of tissues in easy reach. There was Kathy Challis, whose mom, Patricia Boggs, passed along a recipe for candy made of sugar, potato and peanuts dating from the Great Depression, when folks in the South needed to make do with inexpensive goods on hand. Daniel Blumberg explained that "to eat matzo ball soup is to bathe in love," and that when he eats his Oma's soup, "I feel my deceased grandparents' eyes on me."
That's why narrowing down choices for publication was so difficult; we wanted to let you tell all of your tales. Somehow we picked an excellent eight recipes, four sweet and four savory. In honor of Mother's Day, we share them with you. If your mom and grandmom are still around, maybe you can cook something for them today. If not, perhaps you'll be remembering them with the love they fed you, bowl by bowl.
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Off the Wall biscuits
Dian Whitworth Lewallen of Keller told us that, when she was growing up in Montana, her mother would make homemade biscuits for the family. When Lewallen left home, her mother transcribed favorites recipes on index cards. "I used these to help keep me close to my family as my husband and I transferred to different locations during his military career."
With both parents now gone, Lewallen wanted a reminder of them in her Texas home, so she traced and painted her mother's biscuit recipe in her mom's handwriting on her kitchen wall.
"Now when I want to make biscuits, I don't pull out my mother's index card. I just read it off the wall, thus the name Off the Wall Biscuits. I always smile thinking of Mom making the biscuits."
Makes 10 to 12 biscuits
2 cups sifted flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup shortening
2/3 cup milk
1 egg, unbeaten
1. Sift together flour, baking powder, cream of tartar, salt and sugar. Add shortening. Mix until it's the consistency of corn meal. Pour milk into the mixture slowly. Add the egg. Stir the mixture into a stiff dough.
2. Knead just a little. Pat it into about a 1/2-inch thickness.
3. Cut out 10-12 biscuits, using a drinking glass, can or biscuit cutter.
4. Bake 10 to 15 minutes at 450 degrees in a greased pie plate.
German potato salad
Sometimes the best recipes come from a mother-in-law: Margaret Bayer of Fort Worth inherited a beloved potato salad recipe upon marriage in 1955.
“I married a young man whose parents were born and raised in Germany. His mom was an amazing cook. I was young and in love and wanted to please him with his mom’s favorites,” Bayer says. “When she cooked, I stayed close by to observe. Then she would let me try. These skills have been honed with 57 years of practice, and I still enjoy cooking — but in smaller doses today.”
Bayer says this recipe is ideal for cookouts and picnics because there’s no mayonnaise to spoil in the mixture. She says she has even used as much as 10 pounds of potatoes for a big batch for parties and receptions. The recipe is such a hit that it’s always requested for family gatherings. She recommends using any number of good raw veggies, from carrots and cucumbers to bell peppers, in the mix.
Serves 6 to 8
12 red potatoes or 6 Yukon Gold potatoes (all about the same size, so they cook evenly)
1 large cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 medium onion, diced
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup white vinegar (or to taste)
1. Cook the potatoes: Put them in a large pot and cover with cold water. Cook with lid on pan until potatoes are done but still firm. Remove from heat and allow potatoes to sit in water for 15 minutes to absorb moisture. Drain and cool completely.
2. Peel potatoes and slice very thin with a mandolin.
3. Slice cucumber thinly with mandolin.
4. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, tossing to mix well.
Misaki Iijima Aki was the oldest of six children born to a couple who emigrated from Japan to Oakland, Calif., around 1910. Her daughter, Joanne Gabel of Fort Worth, explains that her mother was “bright, responsible and efficient, her mother’s helper and the family translator.”
Gabel says that her mom’s primary cultural experiences remained Japanese during her upbringing, but that when she worked on her bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of California at Berkeley, she worked as live-in domestic help for a family, where she learned to “cook American.”
When Gabel’s mother raised her own family, she would cook stews, roasts, steak, pork chops, fried chicken, turkey, spaghetti and wonderful baked goods for her children, “which we loved,” Gabel says. “The Japanese food she prepared about once a week — not so much. It wasn’t until I left home for college that I began to crave the dishes I had barely tolerated in my childhood.”
Before her mother passed away in 2003, she gave Gabel several of her recipes.
“This one for sukiyaki has become a family favorite. The work is in the chopping beforehand, but the fun is in the cooking and the eating with a group of family and friends.”
For the sauce:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup soy sauce
For the mixture:
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 to 1 1/2 pounds round steak, sliced into thin strips
1 medium onion, sliced
1 cup bamboo shoots or celery, sliced thin
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 bunch green onions, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 bunch spinach (about 2 cups, packed well)
1 fresh cake (8 ounces) tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 to 4 cups medium-grain rice, cooked and hot
1. Combine the sauce ingredients and set aside.
2. In a large saute pan, skillet or wok, heat oil until hot but not smoking. Saute the meat, stirring, until browned, over medium heat. Add half of the prepared sauce, stirring well. Push the sauced meat to one side of the pan.
3. In the other side, add the vegetables and tofu in the order listed, but don’t stir. Add the remaining sauce to the vegetables.
4. Lower the heat to simmer and gently turn the vegetables until done. Stir the ingredients together and serve immediately over rice.
Pam Weatherford of Fort Worth grew up with a mom who was a “great Southern cook — her recipes were rich and decadent, never lacking in butter, sour cream and cheese.... I think she best showed her love through her cooking.”
Weatherford grew up enjoying her mother’s specialties but became a vegetarian, much to her mother’s chagrin. “I’ve learned a ton about converting those old Southern recipes into vegetarian and, in most cases, healthier versions as well. I don’t think Mom knew that I had a knack for repurposing her recipes.”
After losing her mother in 2009, Weatherford compiled her revamped recipes and self-published a cookbook called Mom & Me: Old Recipes Made New. Each recipe includes her mother’s version, along with Weatherford’s healthier, vegetarian version. “It’s my little way of saying, ‘Thanks, Mom!’”
Here, Weatherford shares a healthier edition of a casserole that her mom served with burgers and potato salad.
Serves 4 to 6
3 strips Lightlife Smart Bacon, optional
Half an onion, chopped
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup evaporated cane juice or raw sugar
1/2 cup organic ketchup
1 cup creamy tomato soup (such as Pacific brand)
1 can Bavarian sauerkraut
1. Heat Smart Bacon in skillet; remove and dice.
2. Saute onion in water until translucent. Add cane juice or sugar, ketchup, soup and sauerkraut. Mix well.
3. Pour into casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.
Annette Armstrong of Grandview is the mother, grandmother and great-grandmother making sure that her own mother’s and grandmothers’ recipes won’t be forgotten. She shared with us the recipe book that she typed, printed and bound for her family members so that the youngest generations and those coming afterward will always know how to make the family’s favorite recipes, as well as how those favorites came to be in the family repertoire.
In the book’s dedication, she writes, “This is dedicated to all the fulfilled and unfulfilled dreams of our ancestors. To the hopes and dreams of our children and grandchildren. To all the many times I have wished I could fix for my family that very special taste that exists only in my memory, and to the times in the future that someone may say, ‘I wish I had that old recipe of Grandma’s.’”
Armstrong says that watching her grandmother make fried pies in the 1930s and ’40s is one of her most vivid childhood memories. This was also one of the toughest recipes to re-create to taste exactly like those of her youth.
Makes 8 pies
For the filling:
1 pound dried apricots, peaches or apples
1 1/2 quarts water
2 cups sugar
3/4 teaspoons salt
1 heaping tablespoon flour
2 heaping tablespoons cornstarch
For the pastry:
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
4 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1. Make the filling: Put fruit in water in a large pan and cook over medium-low heat about 30 to 40 minutes, until very soft. Mash well. Add sugar and salt, mixing well and continuing to cook at a low simmer. Add flour and cornstarch, stirring well. Add water, if necessary. Continue to cook slowly 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly. The finished mixture should be very thick. Set it aside.
2. Make the pastry: Sift dry ingredients together. Cut in shortening. Add 2 tablespoons water and vinegar, mix, then add the remaining water. Mix as though for regular pie dough, then roll it out thin and cut the rounds by tracing around a saucer.
3. Fill each round with a tablespoon or so of cooked fruit. Fold the filled crust in half and seal the edges well, moistening with a little water.
4. Heat about 1 1/2 to 2 inches oil in a skillet to 375 degrees. Fry pies until golden brown on both sides, draining on paper towels.
(You can also bake them on a cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.)
When done, if desired, glaze the pies with a mixture of 1 cup powdered sugar and enough orange juice to make a thick glaze.
Elaine’s fresh apple cake
When Larisa Schumann Asaeli’s dad took a job in Berkeley, Calif., in 1970, it meant moving their young family from rural Utah into a culture shock.
“Everything around them was different. But they loved the rolling hills and large oak trees of Walnut Creek. And they loved the farms nearby,” says Asaeli, who now lives in Fort Worth. “When I was older, I would go with them out to Brentwood and pick fruit to preserve for the year ahead. My favorite fruit to pick was apples. I didn’t have to bend down like with strawberries, and I didn’t have to be gentle like with pears or peaches.”
Asaeli’s mom would start canning the fruit after a long day of picking with several children. The whole family would help her put up the produce.
But Asaeli says that with the apples, “we didn’t have to wait to taste the fruits of our labors. Mother would make this fresh apple cake with juicy Golden Delicious apples that we had picked ourselves. The labor seemed worth it as I would bite into a large piece smothered in vanilla ice cream.” She says you can you use whole-wheat flour for half of the flour measurement, if you like.
Serves 10 to 12
3 cups apples, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup oil
2 eggs, beaten
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water
1. Mix apples with sugar, toss with oil, then add eggs.
2. In a separate bowl, mix remaining dry ingredients. Add to sugar mixture and mix well, alternating with water. Add apples.
3. Pour mixture into a well-greased glass or metal casserole dish and bake for 40-50 minutes at 350 degrees. Serve warm with ice cream.
Chloe Webb of Fort Worth recalls that as she was growing up in the 1940s and ’50s, her mom would make dessert just for special occasions. Of the many sweets she prepared, banana pudding was the biggest hit. And memories of the clear, yellow-glass bowl stand out just as much as its contents.
“My mother’s banana pudding became a favorite of everyone who tasted it,” Webb says. “The square-shaped bowl itself was distinctive and, to a child, appeared to have no other purpose than to hold exactly the needed servings of banana pudding. Anticipation began when Mother took the bowl from its shelf, and we pictured her placing the finished result on the buffet, ready and waiting.”
When one of the children had to undergo something serious, such as a tonsillectomy, Webb’s mother put together the “ultimate comfort menu: potato soup and banana pudding.” Webb claimed the yellow dish upon her mother’s death in 1998.
“I placed it on a top cabinet shelf for safekeeping. There it has remained — safe, but forgotten. Forgotten, that is, until a younger brother recently became critically ill. While trying to think of something I could do, I thought of the square yellow bowl. Yes, banana pudding could travel a couple of hours.
“When he saw the bowl, his eyes brightened in recognition. ‘Ah, banana pudding,’ he said with a smile. Reason enough to hang onto a bowl and a recipe.”
Makes 6-8 servings
20 to 30 vanilla wafers
2 or 3 bananas
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups warm milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
1. Line a 2-quart serving dish with a single layer of vanilla wafers (reserve similar amount for top of pudding). Slice bananas on top, and set aside.
2. Beat egg yolks lightly in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Sift or stir the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. Add part of the evaporated milk and stir until well-blended. Add remaining milk (both kinds) gradually, stirring to keep mixture smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and comes to a boil.
4. Remove from heat briefly; add several spoons of hot mixture to egg yolks and mix well.
5. Stir egg yolk mixture smoothly into mixture in saucepan; return to heat and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
6. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Pour pudding over bananas in serving dish, then top with a layer of vanilla wafers.
Note: The pudding takes only a short while to cool before serving — or before refrigerating, if a chilled pudding is preferred.
Mrs. K’s best-ever coconut cream pie
Sometimes the recipes we hold so dear come from a good friend’s mother. That’s how Connie Logan Levsen of Azle came to offer a memorable coconut cream pie recipe she has loved a long time. When Levsen moved to Texas from the East Coast for a government job, she made friends with a colleague named Jackie Kardaras, whose family became extended family for Levsen.
“The Kardaras family is a loving clan; they took me in and showed me the ways of Texas, including Blue Bell ice cream, long-necked beer and two-stepping,” Levsen says.
At the helm of the family was Doris Ida Kardaras, whom Levsen says “was a loving mother to four children, fantastic grandmother to 10 grandchildren and a very spunky lady.” Her cooking was legendary. “Mrs. K seldom used a recipe, just a pinch of this and a dash of that.... Her coconut cream pie was the signature dish on her bill of fare.”
One day in the mid-1980s, Levsen was visiting Mrs. K’s home with one of her daughters and asked if she might share her coconut cream pie recipe. Mrs. K didn’t have a written recipe but taught Levsen how to do it herself. Levsen kept notes, fortunately, because no one else in the family learned to make the pie.
“Sadly, Mrs. K passed away in 1996 at the age of 80,” says Levsen. “Now I’m invited to all the family gatherings, and I suspect the main reason is because I bring the coconut cream pie.”
Serves 8 to 10
1 large (4.6-ounce) box vanilla Jell-O Cook & Serve Pudding & Pie Filling (not instant pudding and pie filling)
3 eggs, separated
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups milk
7 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
1 tablespoon butter
1 (9-inch) pie shell, baked
1/4 cup sugar
1. In a large pan, mix Pudding & Pie Filling, egg yolks, evaporated milk, milk, coconut and butter. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and begins to bubble. 2. Pour filling into pie shell.
3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
4. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Add sugar and continue beating. Spread meringue on top of pie filling.
5. Bake pie for 7 to 10 minutes or until meringue browns. Let pie cool before cutting.