My mother, Evah Lewis, was the greatest cook I’ve ever known. She often said she knew enough about having plenty in good times and being in want during bad times to make a meal with whatever was available – and to make it good enough that people would ask for seconds.
Mom cooked, baked and canned for our family of five, and kept us all well-fed and satisfied with seasonal crops. Whenever possible, she would purchase produce in large quantities from local farmers and neighbors. She instilled in me the idea of supporting local markets whenever possible.
My mom was raised in the southern hills of Ohio by her grandparents during the Depression. She told of times when all they had to eat was the rice and prunes they were given on commodity day. She said somehow her grandmother made those two foods taste pretty good day after day. From her grandmother, my mom learned to make a pot of stewed tomatoes stretch to a whole meal with the addition of toasted bread. In her own kitchen, Mom preferred using zucchini.
After she got married, she raised a large garden each summer, canning and cooking meals with only basic seasonings of salt, pepper, onions and yellow mustard. She always said a lot of dishes could be made tastier with a bit of mustard.
She was known in the community for her baking skills. Before she had any children, Mom baked dinner rolls by the dozens and sold them to the local restaurant. Word spread, and soon she had orders for breads, cakes, pies and sweet rolls. Many years later, she was still baking for neighbors and friends when asked. She won several prizes and ribbons in the county fair for her canned goods and pies.
Joy of Cooking was her only cookbook. I learned to cook by Mom’s example, using that same cookbook. She was also always on the lookout for recipes in the local papers. Most of the contents of her recipe box are yellowed newspaper clippings with her fine handwriting marking notes along the edges.
Mom helped me write a family cookbook several years ago, and she said this: “In diverse ways, mothers tie past generations to present members and future generations. For the most part, this is through the pleasurable task of cooking and baking family dishes to be enjoyed by children and grandchildren.”
I still use Mom’s recipes every day, and I consider myself blessed for having had such a wonderful mother and a great teacher in the kitchen.
Read more stories about home cooking in Heart of the Home: The Good Cook.