Was Your Mother’s Cooking Really That Good?

Many of us have fond memories of the wonderful foods and tastes we grew up with – and I’d guess almost unanimously, we say now we didn’t realize how good that food was back when we took it for granted daily – Well, my blogging friends, I’m going to throw my “skeptic” perspective in here and suggest that there are other factors at work in our fond memories.  And don’t be so quick to write my theories off – I’ve given this a good deal of thought, as have others who agree.  I’m betting that as human animals, we are predisposed to have warm, fuzzy feelings about our carefree and joyous childhood, and perhaps even more, about the positive role and influence our mothers played in our growth and maturation – and all those emotions come rushing back front and center in our memories of the foods and tastes of our childhood.

My mother was not a great cook, but she was in the classic sense, a stay-at-home housewife, and therefore she was the boss of the kitchen – but she did not enter the kitchen with joy in her heart.  I remember well that my early interest in food was driven in part by the fact that I often had the thought that what I was tasting and eating in her kitchen was not the best of the class, and I knew that if I was to experience the fine foods of the world, I was going to have to learn how to cook.

However, my mother was probably a better than average cook of the time (post WWII).  There were some dishes that she did  well:  meatloaf; liver with bacon and onions; lima bean soup made with a big ham bone; stuffed cabbage and peppers; and she did roast chicken very well – but given my father’s rather narrow range of favorite foods, my mother’s repertoire of dinner dishes was quite limited – we ate ham and baked potatoes a lot!

And in retrospect, my mother had some good food attitudes – she always cooked with milk and butter, and would never have American cheese, which she called imitation cheese, in the house.  She did not use canned soups much, tending to make them from scratch instead.  And it was unheard of in our house to have eggs without bacon, ham, or sausage.

But in truth, the list of what my mother did poorly, or not at all, was also significant – she overcooked practically every vegetable she ever cooked, as did most home cooks of the day!  She never made spaghetti, because she simply didn’t understand Italian tomato sauces – actually, Italian foods were just becoming popular, and were mostly restaurant fare.  And although she was a decent baker, it was a rare treat when we had homemade bread, cake, or pie.

All of us can probably recall an occasion as we were growing up, when we realized that something that we thought was common to everyone, was actually considered a little weird to the rest of the world.  I’ve had several of these realizations over the years, and strangely, they center around eggs.  I doubt this fact has anything to do with me growing up on a chicken farm, during which time I hated eggs, namely the slimy little part of the white that’s always the last to firm up when cooking.  However, it took eating breakfast in the college dining hall for me to realize that the rest of the world ate syrup on their French Toast, while I alone thought catsup was the proper accompaniment – I don’t think my roommates ever tired of the questionable humor in this – and I still don’t understand why.

But it was another breakfast egg dish that I would learn really set my family apart from the mainstream – milk poached eggs.  In American food culture, poached eggs are pretty low on the popularity list – but a milk poached egg is a virtual rarity!  And -as I would learn- a milk poached egg done my mother’s way – was arguably unique and distinct to our family alone!  At least I’ve never found any evidence of it on the net.

Basically, my mother would heat a small skillet and put a Tbs of butter in it when hot – when the foam died, she’d drop two eggs in there, sprinkle with salt and pepper and almost immediately pour about 1/6th cup of milk in too – then she’d cover the pan and let the milk boil up and steam for the better part of a minute or two.  Only then would she lift the cover to check things (you want the whites completely cooked, but the yolk still runny but cloudy on top).  When done properly, she’d move the eggs to a plate over a slice of toast, and the hot milk would go over all, to be soaked up by the dry toast.  This is an absolutely delightful way to enjoy your morning eggs, and in fact infinitely easier than making a classic poached egg.

Drop a lump of butter into a hot skillet and let it foam

Gently slip two eggs into pan and season

Pour in a little milk, cover and let come to boil and steam

After a minute or two, check to see that whites are done and yolks just cloudy

Remove eggs to a plate over toast and pour milk over all - Enjoy

I have no idea where this method of making eggs originated, but I’m sure whomever came up with the idea – and I’m quite willing to credit my mother with it – did so in an effort to save milk – normally, milk poached eggs are cooked exactly the same as water poached eggs, thereby creating quite a waste of milk!.  But the ease of preparation and the by-product of a “sauce” here is shear genius, in my estimation, and sets this dish apart from all other everyday poached egg dishes.  (No, Brennan’s Eggs Sardou is not “everyday”)

Did my mother make these eggs better than I can today?  Probably not – but damn, I’ve made these things now thousands of times, and there ain’t no secrets here!  But this was her dish, and her unique gift to us and the world, rest her soul – Now, if she had only given me that recipe for Lima Bean Soup!

About drfugawe

I'm a guy with enough time to do as I please, and that my resources allow. The problem(s) are: I have 100s of interests; I have a short attention span; I have instant expectations; I'm lazy; and I'm broke. But I'm OK with all that, 'cause otherwise I'd be so busy, I'd be dead in a year.
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15 Responses to Was Your Mother’s Cooking Really That Good?

  1. Glenn says:

    I can remember my mother making poached eggs when I was a kid-they were pretty good, but yours look realllly good. I love dipping my toast in the yolk.

  2. No I’ve never come across eggs poached in milk and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten French toast with or without catsup. Will have to look up catsup later. What a great homage to your Mother though! I loved it.

    I think she would have maybe liked ‘iles flotantes’ maybe or baked eggs in cream, those eggy milky delights I do know.

    Food nostalgia, taste and smell memories, you’re going all Proustian here Doc. But these memories are very powerful emotionally, you’re spot on there, even though I’ve never had your Mother’s poached eggs on toast I can almost imagine them right here in front of me. Does the milk thicken up while it cooks with the eggs and the butter ?

    • drfugawe says:

      Oh dear … I’m having trouble with this – are you saying that the Brits don’t know/eat catsup (aka, ketchup, or catchup)? This is hard for me to believe! I thought catsup had by now spread over the entire globe.

      Over here, the stuff is eaten on everything – I’m sure some eat it on ice cream. No … you’re pulling my leg, right?

      And no French Toast either? Oh you poor dear – you make brioche, right? Stale brioche makes the world’s best French Toast – Superb.

      Yes, the milk thickens a little, but it’s only in the pan a short time, so not terribly – it takes a little practice to know just how much milk to use – you want enough to steam the eggs and soak into the toast, but too much will create a poached egg soup. I hope you try it.

  3. Milk poached eggs – that is something completely new to me! My mum was a great cook, and one of these days she’s going to get an internet connection, so I have no intention of ever saying anything to the contrary. ;-)

    But I do think your description of a good cook is perfect – “one who enters the kitchen with joy in his or her heart”. :)

  4. Frances Quinn says:

    Nice work! However, I still believe my mother was a very good cook. We had sphagetti and meatballs, chilli con carne, spanish rice along with the roast chicken, steak, turkey, ham and the other main stays as well as oysters and oyster stew and crabs. Both she and my Dad baked cakes from scratch even when box cakes came out. As for poached eggs, YUM! I intend trying them your way.

    PS: I made your Bahn Mi (?spelling) rolls a couple of weeks ago and they turned out beautiful. Two left and my daughter is taking them to Michigan with her this morning.

  5. catsup is tomato ketchup? OK I’m with you now. There was none of that when I was growing up, not in our house. Though there is a bottle in mine :) You notice I avoid the topic of what my Mother did and didn’t do in the kitchen. One day, when I’m feeling strong, I’ll write about it… :)

  6. I’m not just being nostalgic when I say my mother was a great cook. She was a very gifted cook and everything she made, even the simplest things, were especially good because she was creative and interested in cooking and prepared everything with care. She “entered the kitchen with joy in her heart.” My husband’s mother, on the other hand, was the exact opposite. Which was fortunate for me because it made him appreciate my cooking all the more!

    • drfugawe says:

      Hi Jean,
      You are fortunate! I knew early on that my friend’s moms were cooking better than mine, but at least I had an objective perspective – I just think it’s very easy for those of us who endured mediocre meals in our childhoods, to later wax poetic about that experience.

      Congrats on a very nice blog – and thanks for stopping by.

  7. Frances Quinn says:

    Just to give you an idea that the meals my mom made were unusual, I am seventy four years old. So you see, some of these things were not made in my friends homes that many years ago.

    I love reading your blogs and appreciate the info you put into them. Thank you.

  8. Wendy Lohr says:

    Growing up I thought that milk poached eggs were the proper and only way to do it. I fact, the first time I ordered poached eggs in a restaurant I seriously questioned the waiter when he brought these insipid watery things to the table calling them ‘poached eggs.’ My mom added a touch of sugar to the milk also.

  9. Wendy Lohr says:

    now I’m hungry and only ‘poached eggs’ will do

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