Sunday, October 5, 2008

Memories of my mother ... (part seven) ...

My mother was a fabulous cook!

Her pie crusts melted in your mouth. The roasts could be easily cut with a fork, and the accompanying vegetables -- usually potatoes, rutabaga, carrots, and onions -- were cooked to perfection. She made her own stocks and gravies, and knew just when to use them.

I never did acquire a taste for rutabaga as a child, altho I later learned to appreciate its unique flavor in pasties -- delicious meat pies prevalent in the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan. I don't think I had even heard of pasties until I lived up there. Certainly Mom never made them.

Home-made jams and jellies were stored by the hundreds in a damp and cool basement. Those were the days when wax paraffin was used to help seal the contents of the jar. Do people still use that method? I can vaguely remember pouring it into the jars. Daddy liked to grow stuff. Mom liked to do things with it in the kitchen. (And then, of course, he loved to eat it!)

One of Dad's favorite crops was rhubarb, which he grew in a small plot out back. To this day it is on my list of what not to eat ... tried it once, and just didn't like it. Mom and Dad both loved it, and she made lots of rhubarb pies just for the two of them.

Peas were sometimes served at our table, but never to Dad. In order to put himself through college, he worked in a pea canning factory, and often said that he thought he would probably never eat a pea as long as he lived. (And I don't think he ever did!)

All of Mother's cakes were baked from scratch. She had one very large flour sifter and a small one in case one of us kids wanted to help. (I almost never wanted to help. I was more interested in exploring and climbing trees. Peggy was interested in rescuing bugs and critters, reading, thinking, and writing. Johnny was so much younger than we that I really don't know if he helped or not when he got to be our age. Even if we didn't want to help, however, I can definitely tell you this much ... we ALL wanted to lick the spoon!)

After I was married, I tried to get Mother to crash course teach me what I could easily have learned over many years. I was an abject student.

However, I thought I made a more than passable chili and one time, when Mom and Dad were visiting us in Houghton, I made my prized dish especially for them. I was a little worried that it wouldn't have enough salt for Dad's taste. So, every once in a while I would sneak into the kitchen to put a little more into it. Then, I'd stir and give it the old taste test. Finally, it was ready to serve.

I did. Took the first taste and knew it had way too much salt in it! I could barely finish my bowl. Dad kept asking for more. I don't know how many bowls of over-salted chili he had, but all the while he was exclaiming about how delicious it was! I didn't quite know whether or not to believe him, but he was so exuberant in his praise that it was hard not to!

Some years later, Mother confided in me that they'd had to make several 'pit stops' on the way back to Munising -- some 140 or so miles. Dad had an upset stomach for another day or two, as well.

We told this story to the best mother-in-law of all time, who then told us one about how everyone kept sneaking into the kitchen to add more salt to the turkey because her husband had always complained that it didn't have enough salt. They had to throw it out. It was inedible. (In fact, I think that's what we did with the rest of that chili!)

When Mom got really sick and was in the terminal stages of lung cancer, we were up in Munising to visit and say a last goodbye.

I was really worried about Dad. He didn't even know how to turn on a washing machine, for crying out loud! And what was going to happen to all of those wonderful-looking vegetables that he was producing in what now was a pretty good-sized patch just outside of town?

I decided that I (yes, moi, the non-cook) was going to have to teach him how to cook vegetables. I mean, there were so many and they looked so wonderful ... I just hated the thought of him not being able to enjoy some of them!

And so we had a cooking lesson. I think we started with green beans. A pan of water. Some salt (not too much!!!). Bring to boil. Simmer. Dad asked, "How can you tell when they are done?" I answered, "Spear one and bite into it." That lesson was so successful that I felt I could leave and he would not starve. At the very least he would be able to cook up some of his fantabulous-looking vegetables!

The freezer in their refrigerator was always crammed full, everything properly labeled and dated. Mom kept a lot of information in her head, but also -- particularly after it was discovered that she was terminally ill -- wrote a lot of things down ... how to reheat this (all in the days before microwave ovens), how to use that, when to throw this other away ... just tons and tons of invaluable information.

I still have a bunch of her notes on my "to do" list of things to sift through. I'm not getting any younger. Need to do that. Don't want to have to make my daughter go through it. Besides, what she'll probably do (I would, if I were she) is simply take one look at the stacks and stacks of stuff and light a fire!


Chuck said...

Your mentioning of Michigan and pasties in your posts reminds me of my good times in MI and the UP. Twice I backpacked Isle Royale NP and of course drove through Houghton on the way to Copper Harbor. And when I backpacked Pictured Rocks, I was in Munising (from where I also rode the boat to see the cliffs I had just backpacked atop from the water level.) I also backpacked Porcupine Mountain Wilderness SP and the trail from Lake Michigan to Lake Superior. Michigan certainly has the finest backpacking in the Midwest! Thanks for stimulating those memories!

Goldenrod said...

Your comment, Chuck, brought back just a 'flood' of memories! I'll respond to it, point by point.

I never got to Isle Royale, altho my folks did. I wonder if you saw any 'homesteads' there? (Don't think it was always a restricted area.)

They (my folks) were never what one might even remotely consider backpackers!

I remember one time when they told me that they had driven 'around Lake Superior' -- hundreds and hundreds of miles -- I never did that, either!

Backpacking the Porcupine Mountains and the trail from Lake Michigan to Lake Superior -- where was that, actually, the trail, I mean? -- bet you saw a bunch of bears and deer, not to mention a lot of other wildlife!

Did you fish? Lots of wonderful trout in that area! Would have made for some gourmet meals -- a very nice addition to trail mixes.

Pictured Rocks and Miner's Castle ... my goodness, my goodness, my goodness, the memories!

I don't know what year it was that you took the boat tour to the Pictured Rocks, but it's quite possible that you rode with Bud Morrison, a fellow I dated in college, who owned those tour boats for quite some time before he retired. (He was from Munising originally, and married one of my classmates.)

I'll be doing two or more posts down the road on my memories of the UP and the Keweenaw.

In particular, you should probably watch for mentions of Miner's Castle, the Pictured Rocks boat tour, and the book 'Boom Copper'.

Am very glad that I will be having a reader who relates to that area.

"Michigan certainly has the finest backpacking in the Midwest!" Really? That's a very nice compliment -- especially coming from you, Chuck.

You are more than welcome for my stimulating your memories.

Hopefully, I will stimulate many more!

Craig Peihopa said...

I really enjoyed these posts Goldenrod. I admire your Mum for realising her dreams. Inspite of the eggs thrown and the sadness that was, what a triumph of character and care she bestowed.

It has also caused me much reflection about life and the legacy we leave, and in time we will be remembered for little. I heard it said once that small is the monument of mankind. W e are here and we are not.

If we are not able to be the person we wish or realise our hopes and dreams, what are we? but entioties that simply exist I guess. Thanks for these glorious insights.

Chuck said...

When I was on Isle Royale (1993 and 1996) the ranger said the last of the "in-holdings" or private properties would soon revert to the Park Service.

I drove around Lake Superior was back on a family vacation -- beautiful, but lots of nothin' but trees!

A bear kept us up all night in the Porkies. We could smell his foul breath through the tent fabric each time he sniffed us out. I wrote a poem about that one!

I've backpacked 51 different wildernesses in America, including many 1st class fish areas, but alas I'm not a fisherman.

The Bay de Noc - Grand Island Trail is in the Hiawatha National Forest.

Goldenrod said...

"In-holdings" ... sounds very similar to what my husband and I heard on our first canoe trip to Superior/Quetico many years ago.

At that time -- and this would have been in the early 60's -- I believe there was only one person left (a woman) who owned land and actually lived on the property in that area. It was to be hers until she died -- no possible way to pass along any sort of inheritance, as least as far as the land was concerned.

Can you imagine being alone up there?

I mean, the National/Provincial Park rangers checked up on her 'from time to time' and she had her mail and supplies delivered for months in advance, but still!!

Ha! First time I ever heard of the Porcupine Mountains being referred to as the 'Porkies'!! Must be a 'backpackerism'.

There's nothing quite like a bear's foul breath to keep one up all night, is there? This is DEfinitely one of those 'you'd have to have been there' stories.
I've been there!

The Bay de Noc - Grand Island trail would have brought you right up to the western side of Munising. No wonder you seized the opportunity to take the boat tour and see the Pictured Rocks!

A truly glorious part of our country!

What has always been kind of fascinating for me is the vast -- I mean VAST -- difference between the Lake Michigan and the Lake Superior sides of the Upper Peninsula. Almost like you're in two different worlds.

Craig, I'm so glad that you were able to sit back for just a moment and read my last two posts. I know how busy you have been.

At the same time, I know how much you have enjoyed this series.

My mother was, indeed, one of God's very special people.

But you know what, Craig? Each of us carries within us traits of those who have passed.

"Here one minute ... gone the next" is certainly true, yet a small (albeit infinitesimal) part of each has been indelibly forged into the DNA of future generations.

It's wonderful to hear from you both!

Tammy said...

So many things to comment on here, Goldenrod. lol

I'd have to say I probably enjoy being in the kitchen as much as your mother did. There's something so satisfying to me in creating a delicious masterpiece out of a pile of ingredients that are nothing by themselves.

I never have tasted a rutabaga and I don't care for rhubarb. I think rhubarb is something you love or something you hate...

The chili and turkey both made me think of cooking disasters I've had in the past. Hmmm.....I might have to do a blog post on some of those moments.

And the Porcupine, would love to see what those look like. Might have to do a google image search on them.

And COMPLETELY off topic, Katie and Kayla both mentioned tonight they'd LOVE to see a photo of you. (You do know all 3 of my girls think the world of you, don't you?) I told them you'd once mentioned you'd post a photo of yourself on your blog. Their response? "Tell *Goldenrod* we are WAITING!" ;)

Goldenrod said...

And I'd like to see a post by you on culinary snafus. You do so much cooking that I bet you've got some good ones!

Wasn't it Julia Child who once, on live television, dumped a fiasco in the trash? I miss her. She was so down to earth and human, with a wonderful ability to laugh at herself.

The really funny part of the turkey story is that, in addition to every female in the house sneaking into the kitchen to add more salt to the turkey, the husband actually snuck in once and added a bunch more himself!!

Did you do a Google search on the Porcupine Mountains? You probably found some good info. There used to be a pretty good-sized ski hill there ... can't remember the name of the town now. (Iron Mountain? Baraga?) Imagine it's still around. The one that used to be in Munising (just up the hill from the high school) is long gone, I was really surprised to see when I was there in 2000.

This part of your comment sent my imaginative memory banks working overtime, and I came very close to posting another on the Upper Peninsula. Am stifling that urge for now. Other fish to fry, as they say.

A photo of myself? Well, I'm still waiting for DD to locate the negative for the photo I want to use ... I'll surprise the **** out of all of you one day when you click onto my site and there it is!

Tammy said...

Yes, I checked the Porcupine Mountains with google image and saw how lovely it is in that area. I particularly love the look of it in autumn. My favorite link I found is this:

It's a huge link, and I don't know if it will work, but that first photo is unbelievably pretty.

Tammy said...

Yes! The link does work if you cut and paste the ENTIRE thing into your browser. Don't worry over the little breaks in the link that show up in the comment box. They work themselves out somehow with the magic of the internet. :)

Looking at the photo again, I just realized what I think is so pretty about them. Other than yard trees around here, all (well MOST)of our trees out of town are pine trees. I don't think I've seen a grove of trees (let alone a forest!)that turns colors here. VERY PRETTY. :)