No one cooked and baked from scratch like my mother-except Granny, who assigned her first child to the wood stove when she was eleven.
There, Mom mastered biscuits, cornbread, pies, roasts, gravies, stringed beans in pork fat, fried chicken and pork chops, and oxtail soup for her family of eight.
Praise God, I’m one of Mom’s five daughters whom she also fed Southern home cooking. And when I bore her three granddaughters, every summer vacation their Nana invited us to her table to partake in her Kentucky garden.
She stocked her root cellar, freezer, and pantry with the homegrown-poised to consider culinary trends the trade winds blew in.
My children loved their Nana’s pizza crust smothered with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, red and green peppers, and onions. Yet, Mom couldn’t countenance tacos in any form in her kitchen. And we’d never find garlic bread on the table with her spaghetti.
But who could think about tacos and garlic when my mother served a dish of warm apple pie with a hefty scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on the side?
With this in mind, I called Mom mid December 1981 and informed her of my diagnosis of advanced endometriosis. “Can you come and stay with Mel and the girls while I’m in the hospital for surgery and a few days after?”
To my family’s relief, Nana smoothed our rough spot with delicious meals and portions twice the size I plated them.
My mother managed to clean out my freezer and refrigerator stuffed with meat, milk, and fresh vegetables, plus a pantry stocked with baking supplies, pasta, rice, and canned goods.
My husband gained ten pounds in seven days. If you doubt, ask him yourself.
Thirty-eight years later, Mom’s hamburger soup still holds legendary status from that December she cooked in my kitchen. She used two pounds ground sirloin to my one for the largest stockpot in the house.
Before she returned to Kentucky, Mom and I enjoyed a cup of tea alone. “Mel and the girls said they loved your hamburger soup. What spices and ingredients did you use?”
“Well, I can’t remember. That was a week ago.”
You see, my mother cooked instinctively from old knowledge and imagination. She also guarded her culinary secrets with great pride and care. I was on my own to perform the impossible.
I’ve since made hamburger soup countless times, and have yet to match the flavor my husband remembers. In the process, I’ve developed an adventuresome spirit with whatever I have in the house. After all, Mom would say that’s one key ingredient to a good soup.
Use what you have.
Onions, garlic, butter, olive oil, two small purple and one medium plain cabbage heads, sliced. Three carrots, sliced. A bag of frozen corn. Chicken broth and homegrown canned tomatoes. Chopped celeriac and parsley. Salt and pepper.
Dear Reader, this is the soup season. And in my house, it’s served with garlic bread.
Yes, Mom. Garlic. Occasionally, apple pie a la mode.
Email Iris at