We rarely eat on a schedule at my house, and my mother would be horrified if she knew. She served breakfast at 6:30 sharp. If we missed it, too bad. The kitchen was closed until she served the next meal. Noon meant dinner, and supper came at 6:00 p.m. She never served lunch in her lifetime. It was nonexistent. She changed her schedule only if someone were drastically sick. Her other meals were varied, but breakfast always meant grits and eggs, maybe biscuits, sometimes sausage or bacon. She cooked everything from scratch except cakes. On those rare occasions that she baked a cake, she had Betty Crocker in the kitchen right beside her, taking a turn with the wooden spoon and the glass mixing bowl.
My kitchen resembles my mother’s very little, except for the basic necessities of stove, sink, and refrigerator. Even those differ. My oven is self-cleaning. My refrigerator not only has an icemaker; it dispenses water and ice through the door. My double sink is wonderful compared to Mama’s single one. There’s a microwave on the counter and a dishwasher at my elbow. In Mama’s kitchen, I was the dishwasher. (Have I mentioned how much I love my dishwasher?)
Mama was rigidly traditional, and when I married, she expected me to follow her rules. I tried. When my boys started to school, I got up extra early and cooked the breakfast the boys ate when they spent the night with her—bacon, eggs, grits, and toast. They nibbled, then left most of the food on the table to be served to the dog later.
After a week or two, Calvin asked, “Mama, can we just have cereal for breakfast?”
I thought about it a good three seconds before agreeing. I was really tired of cooking for the dog. He was getting far too fat anyway.
On weekends, my family ate three meals usually, but not at the Mama-appointed times. We ate when we were hungry. We did sit down together while the boys were little, but as they grew and involved themselves in everything from football to band, our schedules diverged. There was no closing my kitchen with hungry boys in the house though. Thank God and Sharp for microwaves. When Calvin came in starving from band practice, he could heat up spaghetti in a matter of two minutes. When Jakey finished his lifeguarding job for the day, he could choose from the smorgasbord of leftovers in the refrigerator. The system didn’t work too well for Josh, my picky eater, but he didn’t starve. I raised my family on leftovers and cannot imagine people who refuse to eat them. What a waste of good food. Even Josh learned to love them later in life. College and being away from my cooking taught him a giant lesson.
I draw the line at Betty Crocker cakes though. Mine are made from scratch, and I find them little more trouble than the packaged ones. When I serve a luscious Italian Cream Cake with pecans on the top, I know that no boxed mix can compete with it. However, if I had to beat the batter by hand as my mother did, I’d be looking for shortcuts as well. My big Kitchen Aid mixer sits over in the corner and waits patiently for my commands. It doesn’t get perturbed if the recipe calls for 5 or even 10 minutes of mixing on high speed. It just whirs away as the batter silkens. I assure you that I’d never last five minutes by hand, much less ten. No wonder Mama used mixes all the time.
When I do cook grits, eggs, biscuits, and bacon, I serve it all around 10:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. That will hold us until mid-afternoon when we get hungry again. Sometimes I cook another meal; sometimes we raid the refrigerator. I try to keep a variety of entrees in there so we won’t grow weary of the same foods every meal. On Sundays I always cook far too much on purpose, so we’ll have good leftovers for the coming week. I was doing that long before Rachel Ray thought of cooking a week’s worth of meals in one day.
One trait Mama and I do share. Both good southern cooks, we served up the best foods we could possibly prepare for our families. That tradition I’ll never give up.