My Mom is an amazing cook. She always has been. Back in the day, she cooked West Virginia style which meant lots of heavenly home-made gravy, melt-in-your-mouth scratch biscuits and some of the best fried chicken you’d ever stick a fork into. Although seriously, who uses a fork with fried chicken? Dinner was always an occasion in my house growing up although I didn’t appreciate it nearly as much then as I do now. Like my Grandmother before her, my Mom’s cooking is southern perfection.
Sadly, times change. Several years ago my Mom started cooking a bit healthier, but she still retained her original Top Chef skills. I do feel sorry sometimes for my Dad though – he sure does like his food…it’s a true, deep down enjoyment with him. A soulful experience if you will. And now he’s relegated to healthy lifestyle inspiring menu items, which we all know what that means. Luckily he has my Mom to put her touch on what could otherwise be some pretty boring and unappetizing dishes.
Pretty much everything that came out of my mother’s kitchen was “from scratch.” It’s only in very recent years that she has stooped to using things like instant rice or canned “cream” soups as a base…but that’s about as far as she’s willing to go with these newfangled food ideas. She tried to pass down her cooking techniques to me and did in fact teach me some nifty little tricks in the kitchen. I can create succulent dishes with the best of them, thanks to her. BUT…and maybe it’s nostalgia or maybe it’s idolatry … BUT I swear no matter how hard I try I can never get anything I cook to taste as good as my Mom makes it.
It’s not for lack of trying. In fact, I might be trying too hard! I follow her instructions obsessively, but no matter how disciplined I am I can never get the fried chicken or potato soup to reach that “Mom” level of yumminess. I’ve begun to think that it’s my strict adherence to the rules that has kept me from achieving those upper echelons of cooking mastery.
My Mom gives me these recipes that I follow to a T but I know for a fact that even she doesn’t follow them that closely. She’s flat out told me so. She treats her recipes more as a useful list of suggestions rather than a set of requirements to check off. The end result is that every time she cooks something it’s a tiny bit different than the last time. Perhaps there’s a bit more pepper or a bit less salt or tarragon instead of thyme (because she was out of thyme and another seasoning that starts with the letter “T” is probably just as good). Is this the reason her concoctions always taste so good? Are the small changes she introduces with each new iteration of a recipe what keep my taste buds titillated?
That all sounds reasonable, but I’ll confess to thinking a bit irrationally at times and have begun to seriously wonder if she leaves out an ingredient on purpose. Is she intentionally switching up the baking time because she knows three minutes more or less is going to alter the taste just the little bit that she needs? You may be thinking, “Well, maybe you’re just a mediocre chef.” Ridiculous. I’ve literally stood next to my mother and watched her every move when she’s cooking and I still can’t duplicate what I watched her make with my own eyes.
There’s some sort of deception involved here and I’m going to figure it out. Until then, I’m going to need my mother to live as long as it takes for me to be as good of a cook as her. She simply cannot die. Period. Not just because I’d lose my best friend in the world, but because I really need her fried chicken.