For Anny Cooper and Irene Dixon
My mother was born and raised in Iowa in a town you can ride your bike around in half an hour, surrounded by cornfields and farms that dot the perimeter and provide harvests of fresh foods all year round. I still can’t go back to visit my grandmother there without being force-fed twenty-four hours a day. In Iowa, just walking into a kitchen starts a plethora of “Want some fresh coffee cake I just whipped up?” “Want some fresh baked chocolate chip cookies?” “I canned some peaches last night in sugar, want some?” Considering I gain about a pound a day while there, I rarely stay more than a week.
Being the Midwest, this meant my mother grew up being a die-hard fan of the spud and the ear of corn and the crock pot and the worker man’s casserole designed to feed, with the ever essential ingredients of a vegetable, a meat, a can of Campbell’s cream of something soup, and a slab of Velveeta, a whole army of kids destined for the tractor pull life.
While I was little and my mother was still a single woman raising two feisty girls, these recipes made there way to our small dinner table quite often. Not only was the food cheap and easy, it provided leftovers for easy heat up in the microwave and was the kind of food that was better the next day anyway. Although we had our favorites, my sister and I grew up craving the more exotic California fare of our lifetimes and favored nouveau cuisines to the staples from my mother’s hometown and we relegated these dishes to the fond memory file, not prone to cook this kind of food on our own, while we were delving into all things vegetarian, Indian or Thai. I vowed never to buy a box of Velveeta as long as I lived.
Like most things left over from the fifties, (Lucille Ball style cigarettes in a cup in every room of the house, gin and tonics at 4 p.m., and artery-clogging amounts of cream and sugar and butter in everything), my mother’s olive green plastic recipe box with its numerous varieties of lined index cards stained with lard fingerprints and bits of years’ old sauces and cake smudges of flour, remains in my family home but more like a cultural icon to a day when we knew less about (or plain didn’t give a damn about) healthy eating and lifestyles.
Recently, my friend Dixie gave me a copy of his own mother Irene’s recipe box but made into a new booklet by his handy graphic designer hands and we shared an afternoon laughing together nostalgically while reading the little momma bon mots that reminded me of my own. A pinch of Bisquick to every bread. Tator tots as the perfect topping to any baked dish. And so on…
Al of this talk made me miss some of my momma’s meals. One of my favorites was salmon patties and creamed peas. I recalled her version crafted of canned salmon and bread crumbs and eggs with the rich cream swimming with sweet peas to top it off and always a side of mashed potatoes so that we could make a mountain of everything on the plate so that every bite contained every ingredient. Don’t know why all of this smashed together was so belly-warming but it was. When I mentioned my craving to my mother she laughed, recalling when my sister Katie, in her new wedded domestic state in Santa Barbara years ago, called from a grocery store aisle when looking for a can of creamed peas so she could impress her new husband with this nostalgic statement only to discover she had to actually make the stuff from scratch. Mom invited me to join her that evening for dinner and served the following updated (aka slightly less heart-attack inducing) version that made my soul shake with goodness!
Salmon Patties and Creamed Peas
Trader Joe’s Alaskan Salmon Patties
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
I can peas
In a small saucepan melt the butter and add the flour, stirring with a fork until it is a paste. Add one tablespoon of milk at a time while stirring constantly as the cream sauce is formed. Keep repeating this slowly until all the milk is used. The trick is to stir with a frenzy with each addition of a tablespoon of milk until perfectly blended and a little bit thicker. This takes about ten to fifteen minutes. Add the peas and fold in. Keep warming on stove on low heat, stirring occasionally while cooking the salmon patties per the packages directions. Spoon the creamed peas over the patties. Salt and pepper to taste.
For extra soul soothing, serve with mashed potatoes and get a bite of everything at once with each bite.