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Mother’s Day is a Day for Memories

When you think of your mother, where is she? 

            I see Mom in her kitchen and in her sewing room.  She’s standing in the flower shop in the basement of my childhood home.  She’s sitting in her brown recliner.  She’s driving a lawn mower. 

            Maybe you think of your mom at one place, and I first picture Mom wearing a dark green plaid apron tied around her waist and patting biscuit dough made with Martha White self-rising flour, Crisco, and buttermilk.  She’d sift the flour, cut in Crisco with a pastry cutter, pour buttermilk into a flour well, and gently stir with a wooden spoon just until the flour wasn’t dry.  Never measuring.  Never looking at a recipe.  

            Mom handled the dough gently, patting it on a flour covered pastry cloth and then making it about ½” thick with a rolling pin that didn’t have handles.  She cut biscuits the perfect size for two bites for Dad and three or four for me.  Smaller biscuits bake more evenly, she told me, and you can eat more. 

            That same biscuit dough became dumplings for my chicken and dumplings birthday meal and Mom made dessert butter rolls using the same dough.  (When biscuit dough is more than biscuits is a topic for another column.)

            Mom and Dad hosted many family holiday dinners and backyard cookouts.  She taught me to fry chicken, make vegetable beef soup, and use a pressure cooker for a perfect beef roast and all the trimmings.  When I made lumpy gravy, it’s because I didn’t follow Mom’s directions.

            Out of necessity, Mom learned to sew when she was a teenager and made clothes for herself and her two younger sisters.  During my growing up years, she made clothes for me, both my grandmothers, and herself; every seam was smooth and even and every garment fit perfectly.  Mom took up quilting to make each of her three grandchildren a quilt – machine pieced and hand quilted. 

            In 1960, Mom turned her love for flowers into a business to pay for my brother’s and my college educations when she opened Ruth’s Flower Shop in the basement of our home.  She arranged gladioli and pom-pom mums or carnations in white metal containers to take to the local funeral home and she made orchid corsages for Mother’s Day.  More than once, she dyed wild roadside Queen Anne’s lace for brides who couldn’t afford store-bought flowers for their bride maids’ bouquets. 

            Saturday house cleaning was finished by lunchtime so Mom could watched baseball games.  Leaning back in her favorite recliner she cheered for the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves. 

            When Mom’s grandchildren were young, one of their favorite things to do was ride in a metal wagon pulled by a riding lawn mower.  Mom drove all over Dad’s and her backyard, as long as the kids sat on their bottoms in the wagon.  

            Mother’s Day is a day to make and share memories and to celebrate with those you love most.  Happy celebrating!

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Giblet Gravy

Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 7.45.17 AMThe aroma of cornbread dressing baking in the oven takes me back to being a kid and standing by a stove. Mom and her sisters, Doris and Nell, began taking turns hosting holiday meals in the 1950s. The hostess roasted a turkey and made the dressing, and the other two sisters prepared the side dishes. All three made a dessert and all three had a hand in the gravy no matter where our family celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas.

At our house while the dressing baked, Mom poured the warm turkey drippings from the roasting pan into a bowl. She set a saucepan on the stove eye and turned the setting to medium.   Then she cut a hunk of butter, dropped it into the pan, and handed me a wooden stirring spoon. Aunt Nell and Aunt Doris stood close.

“Now, Ruth,” Aunt Doris said to Mom, “are you sure that pan is big enough?”

“It’s the one I always use,” Mom answered.

“It looks too small to me.”

“You said that last time we made gravy here.”

Aunt Doris used her largest saucepan when we gathered at her house, and Mom always suggested that a smaller pan would be less washing.

Mom added a few spoonfuls of flour to the melted butter. I stirred. Aunt Nell said, “I never understand how you can make gravy and not measure the butter and flour.”

“You don’t think that looks right?” Mom asked.

“I’m sure it is, but I measure.” Aunt Nell looked in the pan. “That looks like it’s stirring up to the right consistency, don’t you think?”

I listened and stirred.

“We can always add a little more flour, mixed with water, if it’s too thin,” Mom said.

“Maybe. But my gravy gets lumpy when I add flour and water,” said Aunt Nell.

As the flour and butter mixture browned, I moved aside so all three sisters could judge its color. Not too light, not too dark. Mom skimmed some of the fat from the turkey drippings and picked up the bowl to pour the broth into the pan.

“I’d wait until it’s a little darker,” said Aunt Doris.

But Mom and Aunt Nell agreed the roux was a perfect caramel color so Mom slowly poured the broth into the pan. “Keep stirring,” she told me and she added a few shakes from the salt and pepper shakers.

While I stirred, Dad sliced the turkey. Mom chopped the cooked turkey gizzard and liver and a boiled egg in pea-size pieces. Aunt Nell and Aunt Doris loaded our dining room table with dressing, sweet potato casserole, white mashed potatoes, cream corn, green beans, lima beans, congealed cranberry salad and homemade yeast rolls.

I knew what came next. The gravy tasting. Each of the sisters dipped a spoon into the gravy saucepan. They blew gently to cool it and then tasted.

“Maybe a little more salt.”

“Do you think it’s thick enough?”

“It’s close to being ready.”

While Dad, uncles, grandparents, cousins, my brother and I stood behind our chairs around the dining room table, the cooks stood by the stove. They salted, stirred, and tasted until they finally agreed that the gravy was good enough to serve.

Mom added the giblets and chopped egg, gave one last stir, and then poured the hot gravy into her china gravy boat. She placed it on the table between the sliced turkey and cornbread dressing.