Homemade Was Best

Dorothy Long

Mouth watering foods from the past are worth remembering. Home from a day at school, we opened the door to the delightful smell of Mom’s cinnamon rolls. We were starved and ready to devour them. The caramel pecan were the best, as the gooey syrup blended with sugar and cinnamon for a scrumptious taste.

We raised dairy cattle and had an abundance of milk, which could be used for homemade cottage cheese. Mother would put the kettle of milk on a slow burner until it was ready. Then it would be drained and topped with cream. The carton versions never compared to real homemade cottage cheese. Whenever, I spent a day at home with an illness, I tried to convince my mom to make cottage cheese. I assured her, it would make me feel better.

Christmas was a special time and we looked forward to Mom’s divinity. She picked a clear day, as that was when the candy turned out best. She boiled the sugary syrup mixture to a soft ball stage and then beat it. The long beating process was done by hand, as she did not own a mixer. The candy was divided and half received black walnuts and the other maraschino cherries. The walnuts had been hulled, cracked, and the meats picked out by the children. The cherries produced a soft pastel pink candy. At age 90, she still made the delicacy for her grandchildren. I attempted with aid of mixer and microwave, but mine didn’t measure up to Mom’s.

Sunday dinners, often had fried chicken on the menu. Mom would go out in the chicken yard and select the plump rooster. She chopped its head off with a corn knife and the headless chicken flopped across the yard. Finally, it was grabbed and plunged into scalding water. The feathers were picked and it was held over the stove burner to singe the pin feathers. The air filled with the pungent odor. Mom grabbed the butcher knife and proceeded to cut up the chicken. I eagerly watched for her to cut open the gizzard. My curious mind wanted to see the gravel, corn, glass, and other remains of the chicken’s diet. After it was cut into pieces, it was soaked in water until time to fry. The parts were dipped in flour and fried in lard to a crisp golden brown. As we took our places, the platter was placed in the center of the table. My brother and I fought to get the piece with the wishbone. After the meat was eaten, the bone was pulled apart in tug-of-war fashion. The lucky one with the larger piece could make a wish.

During the long hot summer, a variety of vegetables grew in our garden. When the cucumbers matured, it was time for homemade pickles. The pickles sat in crocks filled with brine, until ready to be placed in jars and sealed with lids. There were lime pickles, bread and butter pickles, and dill. Commercially processed pickles did not compare to the flavor of homemade varieties. Stored in the cellar, we enjoyed them all winter long.

Angel food cake was our special birthday cake, made with 13 egg whites beaten to stiff peaks. Frosting boiled for 7 minutes and vigorously beaten covered the cake. It was decorated with hard candies that spelled Happy Birthday. Lighted candles were added, as we sang “Happy Birthday.”

Grandmother, on my mother’s side came from England, so, our family grew up drinking tea with our meals. Even though we had dairy cows, we rarely drank milk. Grandmother’s favorite was green tea, but we served Orange Pekoe. In winter it was served hot and summer time as iced tea. After completing our chores outside in the heat, it was such a refreshing drink. We never added sugar. Our opinion was it ruined the taste.

Other foods were pies with tender crusts and sky high meringue. One day, my mother tried to take a much needed afternoon nap. I was bored and wanted attention. I picked up the newspaper, found a recipe that sounded appealing, and read the ingredients out loud. I ended with the dessert being covered with, my pronunciation, mair in goo. My mother awoke and said, “What?” She laughed about my mispronunciation of meringue for years.

I loved to make mini cinnamon rolls from Mom’s leftover pie crust. I used my own baking set to roll, slice, put on my cookie sheet, and pop in the oven. Then, I enjoyed my culinary work with tea from play cups and saucers.

My immediate family members departed one by one. Left behind, were memories to share with children and grandchildren. Food was an important part of growing up. It was shared at family gatherings, neighborhood clubs, church and social events, and at our dinner table. A special memory will always be that homemade was the best.