I’ve been going through my mom’s things when I visit my dad. We get together twice a week for a visit and go out to lunch. Each time I go up, Dad has some things for me to cull through. In this way, we are cleaning out what I can use, what can be donated, and what can be thrown out.
Each morning at 7:30 am he calls me and we chat for a while, and wish each other a great day. Around 5:00 pm or so, I call him, and we talk about our day. We always end our conversations with ‘I love you,’ and it is a lovely tradition we have made together.
Recently I found two of my mom’s handwritten cookbooks. Some of the best recipes from them–stained and tattered with use–came to me in 1988 one Christmas when she gifted me with “Mama’s Best Recipes for Jane.” I treasure that cookbook, and by now have used it so much that it, too, is now stained and tattered.
I decided to go through all of Mom’s handwritten recipes, and type them out to pass on to her friends. It isn’t all about the recipes, either. For me it is a happy ramble through memories; coming home from school on a cold day, opening the door to smell the heavenly aroma of her amazing shish kebab. It was a dish I loved, and that scent seemed to wrap its arms around me, as Mom did when I came up the stairs.
Mom used to joke that she had a hundred ways to make hamburger; she learned early on how to make the most of what she had, and make it taste great. The recipes in the little book she gave me, all written in her beautiful loopy script, were easy to follow, easy to make and all were delicious.
When I was growing up, every mom I knew baked at least a few times each week. There were always cookies, a cake, a pie or pudding in the house. I remember my Aunt Ruby (really, Mom’s Aunt Ruby, but I called her that as well) saying that a woman had no business calling herself a wife and mother unless she could cook, bake, pickle and preserve. A woman who could consistently turn out good food and take advantage of any fruit or vegetables by preserving them, was truly an asset.
When the three of us had dinner together, Mom always made it an occasion. The lovely slender brass candlesticks from her mother held white tapers which Dad lit before each meal. Whatever the meal was, it was prepared and served beautifully. We ate on the nicest dishes we had, and everyone talked about their day. It was a way to reconnect with each other, and everyone’s conversation was welcome.
The only proviso about Mom’s meals was this (actually it was always directed at me): if you didn’t like what was being served for dinner, you were welcome to make a peanut butter sandwich. Mom worked for many years as Editor-in-Chief at the local newspaper, then came home afterward to clean and cook. As she would say tartly: “This is no bar and grille–if you don’t like what’s on the table, you know where the peanut butter is!”
As I sift through all her recipes, I remember so many meals we enjoyed together. It wasn’t just about the food–it was the feeling of “belonging-ness,” the comfort of family, the easy chat about our days, and the sure knowledge that this was my family, my anchor, my safe place; my home. Reading these recipes brings those times back, and sometimes I swear I can even smell the shish kebob.
The recipe follows, and I hope you enjoy as much as I did.
1 ½ lbs. beef or lamb, cut into 2” cubes
¼ c. salad oil
4 large onions, quartered
½ c. tomato paste
1 T. oregano
3 T. vinegar or lemon juice
S & P to taste
Green peppers, quartered (as many as you like)
Tomatoes, quartered (as many as you like)
Mix the first seven ingredients in a large bowl. Cover and let stand overnight or at least four hours. Put everything, including the peppers and tomatoes, into a large pan and broil:
- Approximately 12” from broiler, 10 minutes
- Approximately 6” from broiler, 15 minutes
- Approximately 4” from broiler, 15 minutes
Comment: This is a delicious shish kebab dish, and it pairs beautifully with crusty bread, and a salad if you like. Great for picnics!