Cooking with Mom

A nostalgic look at childhood's comfort foods.

| July/August 2008


Toni Leland
Mom's Peachy Cake
Layered Mac & Cheese
Nutty Canteloupe Salad
Nana's Cabbage Soup
Tuna Noodle Casserole
Date Bars 

Not a week goes by that I don’t find myself in the kitchen with my mother. Mind you, she hasn’t been with us for many years, but she still influences the food of my heart. Two of her ingredient-stained, dog-eared cookbooks sit among my own modern volumes. My pies unfold beneath the satiny sheen of her wooden rolling pin. Her cast-iron skillet still serves up melt-in-your-mouth pot roast and Swiss steak.

Mother taught me everything I needed to know in the kitchen, during an era when women loved to cook and kept their families well-fed. She taught me how not to boil an egg that rivaled the consistency of Silly Putty®, secrets to flaky, golden pie crust that didn’t come from the freezer case, and how to make gravy that wouldn’t do double-duty as wallpaper paste. She introduced me to interesting flavor combinations and the fun of trying something new. Mom adored cream and butter, and used both lavishly in her cooking. Her favorite query was: “What shall we have under our butter?”

Making do

During the late 1940s, homemakers emerging from the burdens of World War II found it difficult to give up their thrifty habits and, as the country regained access to foodstuffs that had disappeared during those long war years, housewives found innovative and frugal ways to produce delicious meals. Those children of the Great Depression – having survived daily sandwiches of lard with cracked pepper, or turnip greens wilted in salt pork fat – knew the meaning of hard times. Then came the war, and struggles with depleted food stores and rationed staples. Coffee and sugar were strictly rationed; by 1942, meat was rationed at 21/2 pounds per adult per week; eggs and chicken were not rationed, but scarce and expensive. Providing nutritious meals was a challenge. When the war ended, those same homemakers found it difficult to embrace the convenience foods that began to appear: cake mixes, dry yeast, instant potatoes and quick rice.

In the 1950s, frozen pot pies, fish sticks, TV dinners, instant pudding and Rice-a-Roni® took America by storm, and housewives began to embrace the ease and speed with which delicious family meals could be prepared. But they still wasted nothing. My mother’s “roly-poly” was my favorite treat – leftover pie crust rolled out, slathered with butter (of course), sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, then rolled up and baked alongside the pie.

Our childhood foods

Comfort food as we knew it became the staple diet of modern American families: meatloaf made with onion soup mix; casseroles creamed with canned soup; salads and desserts shimmering with flavored gelatin mixes. Sauces, gravies and marinades became everyday fare, and the size of individual servings grew.

By the end of the 1960s, the microwave had a place in American kitchens, but many homemakers resisted the concept. Then in 1975, the microwave outsold the range; Americans now embraced the microwave. When I finally bought one for Mom, she grumbled a bit, but later admitted that it was “fantastic for melting butter.”

jean teller
9/2/2008 12:34:19 PM

Thanks, Jean, for the great review of Mom's Peachy Cake. I thought it sounded like a good recipe, and Toni's photo looked absolutely yummy! BTW, we're focusing on diabetic recipes in our November/December Recipe Box. Hope you and your husband like one or two of them! Please let me know - thanks!

jean sherwood
8/30/2008 11:26:22 PM

I made Mom's Peachy Cake today. My husband is diabetic so I used Splenda instead of sugar. I didn't have cloves, could have used more cinnamon I suppose, but just omited the cloves. Served it warm with vanilla ice cream for his mid afternoon snack. It is easy to make and oh so delicious!! Glad I don't have to worry about gaining any weight! Thanks for publishing these wonderful recipes.

jean teller
8/20/2008 10:11:53 AM

Jacky, what a terrific idea! I was recently back at the home place, and my aunt (the former weekly newspaper editor) mentioned that she'd hoped to get the family recipes printed. I'll have to mention this software, and maybe between us, she and I can get the job done! Thanks, Jacky!

jacky walker
8/20/2008 1:14:13 AM

I read Toni's article with great interest and want to share this website for GRIT readers who like to make cookbooks: They have a wonderful cookbook making software that is so easy to use yet you get a professional looking cookbook that you can add family history, photos and a family address book. It is called Matilda's Fantastic Cookbook Software. I recently started using it and can highly recommend it for how easy and quick it is to use. There are 27 different design templates to choose from, or you can customize all the pages. The best part is that you can print it all from your own computer, one copy or 10, instead of having to order 100s of copies from cookbook publishing houses. A wonderful inexpensive way to save family recipes. Thanks for a great article.

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