Monday, December 10, 2012

Cooking Frenzy

At this time of the year I feel more compelled to prepare something holiday-ish. The drawback is I show off my poor cooking skills. I've never been one to openly brag about the lack thereof. The older I've become, the less embarassed I am to admit that fault. However, I've found more ladies who can whip up anything delectable at a moment's notice.A skill Mother did with ease.

One afternoon as an adult standing in Mother's kitchen I asked her why her cooking skills didn't wiggle into my DNA? I didn't ask why she never took the time to teach Sis and me, as I knew she worked very hard at her job as manager of Merrill, Lynch, Pierce in Jackson, MS. But I thought the question, hoping she'd admit the reason.

Surely enough, she blamed herself and expounded, "I had to begin helping in the kitchen at age five, taking out buckets of lunch to my older brothers in the field and my reward was teasing. I hated that job. I can still remember having to stand on a stool to stir the pots at the wood stove, setting the table, then having to wash all those dishes. You know, we fed the farm hands as well as our family. I vowed sometime in those early years that I'd never put a daughter of mine through the experience." No one ever told this rural kid cooking would be one talent all young women should possess.

My family ran by clockwork. Mother was up in the mornings before us, preparing our breakfast;  Daddy bathed and dressed; Sis and I  dressed and made up our beds; we ate. Then Sis and I cleaned off the table and Daddy washed the dishes while Sis and I took turns drying while Mother dressed. Where was there time to teach us?

I wish I had the technique to make sweet muffins at the drop of a hat. I recall that when one of us heard a car pushing up our hilly driveway, Dad would say, "Mother, get the oven going, looks like some hungry folks are coming and they'll want your muffins." And quickly Mother would have sturreded up the batter, filled the muffin cups and shoved them in the over just as the doorbell rang. I can't make muffins.

I"ve collected muffin recipes and tried to replicate Mother's plain muffins to no avail. I can make candy. Pralines are my specialty. Only during the December holidays do I ever make pralines. I have a never-fail recipe I found lodged in Mother's cookbook, its tattered yellow sheet smudged with butter, its words written in pencil about to fade. She made divinity, fudge, fruitcake, and pies galore.  I make pralines, period. My pralines are chunks of pecans coated with cooked sugar. If you want to make Pralines yourself, try my recipe. Takes less than 30 minutes on the stove.

            MIX          1 1/2 c white sugar, or a bit less
                             3/4 c brown sugar packed
                             1/2 c condensed milk
Cook over heat until boiling and test for a hard core after a drop falls into a clear dish of water.
          Drop in         3/4 st butter
                               Real vanilla to your taste, maybe 1 tsp (Ok, if you have vanilla extract, that'll do)
          Add              1 1/2 c broken pecans

Stir swiftly to allow air to cool the mixture, when a sheen appears, begin dropping spoons full on oiled wax paper. Cool for 10 minutes and enjoy.     

The fudge I leave to R who cooks less than I do. He relishes making cocoa fudge by his recipe he developed when we lived in the little house everyone called "The Doll House." Five rooms with a galley kitchen, hot as Hades in summer, cold in spots during the winter. We probably made more fudge during that time than any other time in our lives.

Now we eat less sugar. How can you make pralines and fudge without sugar? You know the temptation, "Just one small piece and I won't eat another one until next year." It doesn't work that way. For several years R didn't make fudge unless someone complimented him and ask for a platter for themselves. I got to lick the pan only, which was more enjoyable anyway.

What do I  cook during the holidays? Besides pralines, there's ambrosia, and chocolate pudding (which is supposed to be chocolate pie but something always happens so we eat it with a spoon). No matter what main dish I make, something fails to taste or look right. The rice needs more water, the dressing is too liquidy, the roast has no flavor.

I can't win for losing. Every time. 


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