Service of Channeling Proust: Memories of Mom’s Cooking

August 16th, 2021

Categories: Cooking, Food, Memories, Recipes

Marcel Proust wrote about how eating a madeleine triggered childhood memories in “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu,” (“In Search of Lost Time”). We all have our madeleine equivalents.

HW shared a loving memory of her Mom’s Sunday family chicken dinners. The poultry started in the oven, on the road to developing a characteristic golden hue, but then she’d add water, cover and cook it some more for a very long time. As a result the bird’s complexion turned gray. She did this so as not to poison the family with under-cooked chicken–her concern. Today HW’s cousins reminisce about those renowned dinners and her mom’s legendary gray chicken.

My mom could transform a disappointing, tasteless store-bought pound or other cake into a scrumptious trifle-like concoction or whip up floating island or enliven leftovers so they’d be toothsome. But I always think of her when I see “French toast” on a menu or on the rare occasion I make it for myself.

She would be surprised I chose her French toast for this post as in addition to the above her lamb chops and chocolate brownies and birthday cakes were also to die. I’m sure she thought that by the time I rescued and devoured it the French toast was within an inch of the garbage.

French toast was a Sunday morning staple in our home. Like many a teen, I lingered in bed long after I was asked to wake up and eat breakfast. To keep it warm mom left my portion on an extremely low flame. By the time I’d get to it, the toast was cooked through, not a smidgen of egg taste remained and it was cracker-hard–on the cusp of burnt. As a result, that’s the only way I’ll eat French toast! I cannot order it in a restaurant.

By the way, French toast in France is called le pain du pauvre–bread of the poor–or pain perdu, lost bread. Fresh bread was a crucial element in French homes. A cook gave day old bread another life by dipping it in egg and milk before cooking it.

When I was a kid my dad didn’t cook. Later he made a serious oil and vinegar salad dressing and cucumber salad.

What childhood foods do you remember?



Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

22 Responses to “Service of Channeling Proust: Memories of Mom’s Cooking”

  1. Anonymous Said:

    I’ve got several favorites…to start my dad was a butcher so my mom had freshly ground hamburger. My friends always came over for Celia’s giant hamburgers(fried of course)and freshly made French fries. Then there was American Chop Suey…and for thanksgiving she’d make stuffed cabbage….along with the regular thanksgiving dishes. I’m surprised I’m not dead from a heart attack and clogged arteries! I’ve always said my husband married me because my mom was such a great cook!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Anonymous,

    When my mom sent me to the butcher for a quarter pound of top round chuck for my lunch I was in for a treat. I don’t think I’ve tasted a better burger since.

  3. ASK Said:

    For years my mother struggled to make a good pie crust, but no matter, I loved her apple pies…perhaps because they were so infrequently made! Another of her best dishes was Risotto alla Milanesa; to me, any other kind of risotto, and there have been many put on menus in the last decade, is not really risotto. Another favorite was — of all things — boiled beef with horseradish sauce, either hot or cold. I think it’s now on menus as “bollito misto.”

  4. Amanda Ripanykhazova Said:

    My mum’s father’s fried bread, a ridiculously simple dish involving just frying bread till it is golden brown in (quite a lot of) butter. A taste so amazing that I can’t understand why it isn’t more common. Warm up the ambulance engines, I am going to make some!

    And my mum’s fresh salmon, poached in milk etc. Legendary for the requests for it from friends and family alike.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    All sounds divine. What a wonderful variety of taste sensations your mom mastered! Lucky family.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Amanda,

    Good bread and good butter–winning combo. Cooked just right? Ambrosia. It’s the best of grilled cheese without the cheese.

    Ours wasn’t a family of fish eaters though I love poached salmon now. But I buy mine from a superb fish store on 57th Street. Wonderful summer dish served cold with green sauce.

  7. EAM Said:

    EAM on Facebook,

    Tuna casserole.

  8. Nancie Steinberg Said:

    Nancie Steinberg on Facebook: Swansons TV dinners when my mom was studying for her Masters in special education.

    Lamb chops!!!

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Nancie,

    When my parents were going out I’d get a TV dinner only if I was good. I imagine my mom crossed her fingers a lot or lowered the bar for bad! ☺️

    Lamb chops a favorite at our house too.

  10. Jodie Sternberg Said:

    Jodie Sternberg on Facebook: Not being a fan of lamb chops, I wound up having to eat cereal for dinner at the Sternberg household!

  11. Francine Ryan Said:

    Francine on Facebook: Swanson TV dinners were a regular staple of my mother’s table. She hated to cook and hated even more messing up her kitchen. So I also regularly had spaghetti with Campbell’s tomato soup and an hour exceptionally good Salisbury steak that came in a tinfoil container she’d heat up and serve with noodles. Her rice pudding with a custard top was truly homemade, and one of the best desserts I have ever had, along with her Bisquick coffee cake. She was the best.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Francine,

    I imagine most kids are used to the food their parents’ serve and wonder how old a child is before he/she distinguishes “good” from “average” recipes/food.

    Cheap, tasteless pastries from Cushman’s bakery represented the first food group I was able to distinguish from Bauer’s yummy cookies and cakes–on Lexington and 86th Street–and Dumas on Lex and 87th’s apricot fruit tarts, mocha cakes and mouth watering palmiers. I miss both.

  13. Anonymous Said:

    Could we have the recipe for the rice pudding with the custard top? Please!!!!!

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Anonymous,

    I’ve asked her. She needs to find and type it as it’s handwritten.

  15. Anonymous Said:

    YIPPEE!!!

  16. lucrezia Said:

    I’m no foodie, and have no taste for Proust, so kudos to anyone who does! A favorite meal, as a child, was chicken thigh and/or drumstick. Still is.

    I was never a cook, and my efforts were so alarming that, when older, I received $$ to go to a restaurant when the parents were going out. German beer halls were only 8 blocks away, so it was knockwurst and white wine, a tasty compromise for those of us with mixed ancestries!

    This is what may happen when one has a parent who is an excellent cook. I remember being chased out of the kitchen and told to find something better to do. I’m still following that advice.

  17. Eileen Dover Said:

    The smoke detector was our dinner bell growing up. Feeding the family became my job when my mother figured out I could cook. As an adult…I’ve learned to clean as I go and make wonderful one pot meals. A favorite childhood dish was fish and chips. I battered the entire kitchen and splattered oil everywhere. The recipe “disappeared” never to be made again. But the meal was delicious and a fond memory!

  18. Deborah Wright Said:

    My mother was not a very good cook. But she excelled at making party food from scratch. We are talking summertime outdoor parties. She would make this huge bowl of herring with sour cream, slices of orange and apple, and thin sliced onion. I have never been able to replicate that recipe. The other thing I remember was a peach cobbler in this huge clay casserole (it was glazed on the inside) and it was delicious beyond imagining. Whipped cream on this warm cobbler with fresh peaches…

  19. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    As I left for school I’d sometimes ask mom “What’s for dinner?” If she said “chicken,” and she changed her mind, I’d be disappointed as I was looking forward to it all day. I will add chicken to my my list of favorites–dark meat only.

    I don’t remember being invited in or asked to leave the kitchen as a youngster and for some reason I only remember nearing it if I had a poem to recite or a question for mom. Cooks often don’t like people around them. My husband didn’t care for anyone in the kitchen while he made dinner.

  20. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Eileen,

    I’ve not stopped laughing! Your dinner bell!

    I’ve been to the UK more than a few times and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten fish and chips there–or here for that matter! How could that be?

  21. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Deborah,

    The peach cobbler sounds amazing. I love cobbler desserts with peach top of my list!

    I smiled when you said you couldn’t replicate your mom’s herring recipe. Once my mother raved about a tuna fish sandwich I made. I did what she did–mix in mayo with the tuna–period. But it may have tasted better because she didn’t have to make it and someone she loved had.

  22. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Anonymous,

    Francine just sent me her mother’s rice pudding topped with custard recipe. Here it is:

    Mama’s Rice Pudding

    Combine in top of a double boiler:

    1/2 cup uncooked rice
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/4 cup sugar
    1/4 tsp cinnamon
    2 1/2 cups milk
    1/2 cup raisins

    Cook, covered, over boiling water until rice is tender and milk is almost absorbed. Keep stirring, it could be over an hour. Pour into bowl.

    Custard:

    Scald in top of double boiler, over direct heat 3 cups milk.
    Beat in small bowl 4 whole eggs.
    Blend in 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp salt.
    Gradually stir in scalded milk and return to double boiler.
    Over simmering water, stir constantly.

    When custard coast silver spoon, remove from heat an blend in 2 tsp vanilla.

    Cool custard till a little thick; stir half into the rice mixture.
    Pour the rest on top. Sprinkle on lots of cinnamon.

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