Following my mother’s passing, my sister and I spent hours sifting through my mom’s household possessions. When I discovered Mom’s vintage avocado recipe tin, we were excited to reminisce about all those classic meals we had as kids, most of which called for copious amounts of “oleo” and / or Crisco.
Here’s a selection.
- A 1967 recipe for liver paté clipped out of the local newspaper.
- Fricasseean rabbit. (Because who doesn’t need a good recipe for rabbit?)
- Egg salad. Tuna salad. Ham salad. Lobster salad. At least a dozen different recipes for congealed salads.
- Tuna over toast. Tuna casserole. “Souper” Tuna Crunch. (Eighteen other recipes for canned tuna.)
- Macaroni smorgasbowl salad. Macaroni casserole. Squash casserole. Green bean casserole. Squash macaroni green bean casserole.
- Spanish ham. Spanish rice. Chinese stir fry. Hungarian Goulash. (Mom had international culinary taste and talent!)
- Betty Crocker coupons, expired in 1976.
Given what we found, we were puzzled. Where are all those yummy recipes Mom used to make… the delicious dishes we craved?
After a few minutes scanning the culinary time capsule crammed with vintage recipe cards and crumpled yellowing slips of paper, we realized: our mom’s cooking was not often very good. In fact, you could even say it was bad. Maybe it wasn’t that our mother was terribly unskilled at cooking, it’s just that her recipe box was stuck in the mid-twentieth century. And, while mid-century is a great era for furniture, it wasn’t a great era for the culinary arts.
Mom could, however, make a mean baked spaghetti, though we were unable to locate that recipe in the avocado tin. And, she did possess many other redeeming qualities that had nothing to do with the oven or cook top. So, we loved her dearly, despite the menu she forced on us throughout the years as she huffed and puffed about the kitchen, and bemoaned every minute she spent there. After my dad died when I was ten years old, Mom didn’t even feign any “joy of cooking” from then on.
It’s probably no surprise, then, that I don’t take pleasure in making meals. I never have, and likely never will.
Throughout my teenage years, a “home cooked” meal for me entailed a trip up the road to the Blue Ribbon Grill, a southern kitchen that proudly proclaimed “You Gotta Eat, and We Need the Money.” Later, when I went off to college, I lived in a sorority house with a house-mom who made the closest thing to home-cooked meals I’d had in many years. After graduating, I got by on Lean Cuisines, fast food, and wherever my dates took me to dinner.
The women of my mother’s generation loved to advise us that cooking was a necessary skill to snag a man. “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” my mom enjoyed reminding me.
When I married at age 29, (which might as well have been 59 by Southern standards), I proved my elders wrong. I thought I’d learn to cook then, because… I had a husband! However, no love of cooking or meal-making motivation miraculously appeared. Later, I thought: When I have a big, new, beautiful kitchen, then I’d surely want to cook. It turns out that even after getting the dream kitchen, when I moved out six years later, every beautiful square inch of the granite, tile, and stainless steel was as sparkling and virginal as the day I moved in.
“I’ll learn to cook when I have kids,” I told myself. Alas, no children ever materialized, and nor did any inspiration for home cooking.
After a baker’s dozen years of marriage, I got divorced. (Is it because I never learned to cook?) Shortly thereafter, my aunt lamented my dire situation on the phone one day. “Aren’t you worried you won’t be able to find another man if you don’t learn to cook?” she asked. She was genuinely concerned. After a few moments of my confused silence, she added reassuringly, “Oh, well, that’s right, I guess that’s not really as big of a deal these days.”
Not since the 1950s, I thought.
So here I am. Am I less of a woman because I don’t want to cook? Am I shirking my duties as a female because I would rather dine out? Or, better yet, enjoy a meal cooked for me by my date? Am I seriously posing these questions in 2015?
I’ve decided to turn the tables on the 1950s “woman must cook” prerequisite. I’ve flipped it around to make it MY requirement that any man who wants to be with me must cook. Preferably, he should do it well, willingly, and lovingly. As of today, it’s working for me – my current boyfriend is a wonderful cook and he actually enjoys it, which makes it even more special. Furthermore, I know plenty of real women who don’t cook, and also enjoy relationships with fine men, who somehow manage to survive despite the fact that their female significant other is not wearing an apron or wielding a fry pan.
There is one cooking caveat for me. Once a year I give in on my life-long cooking boycott, at Thanksgiving, with the recipe Mom made every year. It was delicious with the turkey, and we can’t celebrate the holiday without it. It is Swiss Cheesy Green Bean Casserole.
This is not your run of the mill green-beans-with-Campbell’s-soup-and-fried-onions-on-top recipe. Not that there’s anything wrong with that dish. But this recipe has lots of cheese, sour cream, and corn flakes on top! Not only is it a family favorite, it’s been a hit at the office Thanksgiving potluck, too. You know it must be tasty, to lure me out of my cooking-free comfort zone!
I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
Recipe: Swiss Cheesy French Green Bean Casserole
Serves 8; Ingredients:
- 2 T Butter
- 2 T Flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1/2 grated onion
- 1 C sour cream
- 3 cans drained french style green beans
- 1/2 lb Swiss cheese – grated
- 2 Cups corn flakes
- 2 T butter
- Melt 2 T Butter in pan and stir in flour, salt, pepper, and onion. Add sour cream and heat till mixture is think and bubbly, stirring constantly.
- Combine with green beans and heat.
- Pour into greased casserole dish. Refrigerate til ready to bake.
- Add grated cheese on top of green bean mixture.
- Crush corn flakes and add to 2 T melted butter. Sprinkle over entire dish.
- Bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees
“Food, far more than sex, is the great leveler. Just as every king, prophet, warrior, and saint has a mother, so every Napoleon, every Einstein, every Jesus has to eat.” — Betty Fussell
© Andrea Clement
Andrea Clement is a career advice columnist, writer, and communications professional with a background in medical sales, training, and healthcare recruiting. She is the Guide to Health Careers for About.com. She has contributed to books, journals, websites and has made media appearances on television and radio. Visit her blog, No Parents No Problem. Follow Andrea on Twitter at @AndreaSantiago, or connect with her on LinkedIn.
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