Back in the Day

My mother used a Lays Potato Chips can to store flour for her baking projects. — submitted photo

This is the year 2019 and not 1959. Clearly, much has changed during these 60 years.

You must be very careful about the comments you make on certain topics today. This is particularly true concerning some interactions with females.

So, discussions with a female where her relationship with cooking is highlighted can bring about serious objections. A “sister” will tell you in a minute that her skills and interests go beyond those which relegate her to the stereotypical role of women in the kitchen.

So, what has caused me to go down this road? You see, on this special day, Mother’s Day, I recall the love and a deep appreciation for my mother and her role in my development as a man.

I am eternally grateful for her love, guidance, values, religious beliefs and all of those things she instilled in me to make me a “whole man.”

But any thought of my mother, especially on Mother’s Day, invariably takes me to the room where she toiled tirelessly to place delicious meals on the table for my family, back in the day.

I fully understand that some of you have concerns regarding women and the kitchen. But you cannot be Black and from back in the day without having fond memories of your mother’s or grandmother’s cooking.

Regardless of sex, age or political correctness on issues such as this one that tend to be stereotypical, we can agree that grandmothers and mothers, particularly, those that grew up in the South could really “burn.”

When I close my eyes, a favorite, warm, back in the day cooking thought will undoubtedly flash through my mind. The kitchen is where my mother loved to spend most of her time. I can still see her dragging out the large Lays potato chip can in which she stored the flour used in her Saturday night cooking. As a child, Saturday night in my household always meant that my mother would be sitting on a small stepstool, preparing foods for Sunday dinner.

I will always remember the large, tan mixing bowls she used to prepare the batter to place in various size pans for baking items. I would hang onto her apron as I climbed up in the chair to dip my finger into the mixing bowl to get a taste of the batter. No, there were no instant mixes in her cabinets; everything was made from scratch. What I would not give to have this experience again. While this was an experience, of more than 75 years ago, it seems to be one of just a few days ago; a back in the day image that invariably comes to mind on Mother’s Day.

Thinking about your mother’s cooking must invariably bring about thoughts of Sunday dinners when you were growing up. Undoubtedly you can still taste your mother’s fried chicken and potato salad. Could this combination exist without collard greens?

Your mother’s back-in-the-day meals probably included celery stuffed with egg salad. Like many of you, I recall Sunday meals that were eaten in the late afternoon, shortly after returning home from church services. If you are from back in the day, your memories are probably like mine.

How many food products do you recall your mother preparing that came out of a can or box? Our mother’s foods were prepared from scratch! Most foods came from the market and then home to do the preparation necessary prior to cooking. I cannot recall frozen foods in the past. The only thing that was frozen in the store and went into the freezer at home was ice cream.

Thoughts of mother’s cooking on this Mother’s Day, bring about memories of those special ingredients that mother added to the meal. The food we ate, back then, was wholesome, without some of the questionable ingredients we find in foods today.

Even though we ate pork, used lard and other fatty products that people avoid using today, our foods tasted better and did not result in many of the health problems people experience today.

Can you remember the last time you had gravy on the table to be added to your meat or mashed potatoes? Do you find mushrooms on your steak today, as your mother would add to your steaks in the past? When is the last time that beets, squash, asparagus or cauliflower was a side dish for dinner? These were standard dishes that our mothers insisted on being part of our dinners even though many of us frowned on these items.

I bet that few of you remember your mother starting dinner in the past with a salad. Most of us from that period did not know anything about having a salad for dinner. As you may recall, dinner started with a loaf of homemade, uncut hot bread or homemade rolls. Butter, a block at that and not margarine, was the choice for your hot bread. It was not unusual to season your vegetables with mounds of butter. Now, think about your family dinner last Sunday. What do you recall of that experience? Well, I should add, “If you had a family, Sunday dinner” as families eating together is becoming a thing of the past, an experience that is being left back in the day.

Have you had a dessert over the past 10 or 20 years that could challenge your mother’s or grandmother’s pound cake? Have you had a vanilla, coconut layer cake that rivaled your mother’s layer cake? When is the last time you had a deep-dish apple pie? Can any store-bought sweet potato pie come close to the pie that your mother made when you were a child? If you had a dessert topped with whipped cream, I would bet my last dollar that it was not real whipped cream. I love desserts! My love for desserts is not new; as a child, teenager and young adult, lunch or dinner was not complete until I had dessert. While on this Mother’s Day and most past Mother’s Days, I am always drawn to the preparation and eating of delicious, homemade desserts. This preparation occurs in few households today but was standard in the past. Mother’s Day always resurrects memories of consuming a homemade dessert item.

I was fortunate in that I grew up in a household where baking was something that was expected. I am blessed today as my wife grew up in a baking household and has carried the tradition into the years that we have been blessed to spend together. While my mother made outstanding pound cakes and deep-dish apple pie, my wife makes outstanding pumpkin bread.

As I pulled together materials for this column, I spoke with a number of young ladies about their experiences with baking. While there were a few exceptions, for the most part I was told something like, “I do not do baking!” In most cases, the words came in an emphatic manner leaving no doubt as to their views on this subject.

Any thought of homemade desserts invariably brings memories of my mother, in the kitchen on Saturday afternoon through Saturday night. My mother’s Saturday baking meant a cake came out of the oven evenly browned and smelling wonderful. Sometimes there was a slew of baked goods just waiting to be eaten. When an item initially came out of the oven, my mother put a toothpick in the cake to test whether it cooked completely. I was told not to run in or through the kitchen so not to make the cakes fall.

On most occasions, there were so many desserts until they went into the oven in shifts. It was not unusual for my mother to bake several items on one evening; a pound cake, chocolate or coconut layer cake, coconut pie, deep-dish apple pie, a variety of cookies and several types of rolls.

The image of my mother, organizing things Saturday afternoon for baking later that evening, stays in my mind. I can still see all of the things associated with baking that have been described above, neatly placed on the kitchen table.

The one thing I never saw, however, was a recipe.

With the baking of everything from rolls, pies, cakes, sticky buns and bread pudding, I cannot recall my mother ever referring to a cookbook. Most of her recipes were in her head; used on such a regular basis until she knew them “by heart.” For those of you who know of people that bake, I bet that their recipes cannot compare to the recipes of our mothers of years ago. You see, the recipes many use today are the recipes on the box mixes. The boxes contain instant mixes, mixes that have replaced the cooking from scratch that was characteristic of our mother’s baking, back in the day.

While I know that some of you will say that I could have remembered my mother on this special day with other things as opposed to cooking. Understand that regardless of the political correctness of this memory, it represents something that was special in my life. This is something that I wish boys and girls could experience today and not have such a memory tied only to family life from back in the day.

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at backintheday@phillytrib.com or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146

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