Most of my friends know I have culinary aspirations. It is true, I can cook. Often times well. I have been cooking a long time and most things are more than merely edible. I have made many things wonderful and most of my disasters are in the past. A wise man learns from his mistakes. I do too.
My career in cooking began back in high school after my Mom went through chemo. She was really too ill to cook and that really bothered her. She did not take forced idleness very well. However, there is a distinct possibility what really bothered here the most was the idea of Dad in the kitchen. She was a very wise woman.
For most Southerners of my generation, and earlier ones I imagine, the kitchen was really the heart of family life. Mom did all the cooking, unless they decided to have breakfast for dinner. Then Dad would man the waffle iron. Thinking about it now, Dad's cooking authority in the kitchen was pretty much limited to waffles and toast. Beyond that, kitchening was really a complex dance between Mom and Dad. Not a battle, really, more a series of minor skirmishes. Periodically Dad would invade the kitchen and Mom would hover and flutter in not quite panic. Especially if he decided to go cleaning. Unable to take a leading role in cooking, ill content with the occasional waffle or piece of burnt toast, Dad would assuage his deep desire to DO SOMETHING by deciding to clean. The resulting turmoil would last a good part of Saturday morning, after which Mom would quietly put things back to rights over the next day or so. Such times always left me with a feeling of unease, which would also fade as normal returned.
Which isn't to say Mom was one of those amazing, Southern cooks as so many old fashioned Moms were. Quite the opposite. Most things were at least edible and were often quite good, but we did go through a lot of ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. Mom was remembered, and actually beloved, more for her disasters than for her spectacular successes. There were the rock pecan pies which were like big chunks of brown rock candy, covered with pecan chunks, and encased in crust. There was the cinder block chocolate cake which the revivalist who ate Sunday dinner with us was unable to saw through with a steak knife. There was the couple who came for a spaghetti dinner when we were very young who preferred to eat their spaghetti plain - sans the awful homemade sauce. I could really go on and on and on.....
The most famous incident, and the one which I remember with the most fondness because it is absolutely true, is that of the biscuit rocks. Mom made a lot of biscuits, but this time something was strange to our experience. When pulled out of the oven they were, well, tall. I was later informed that is called rising. They were also the wrong color. I was familiar with white biscuits, even black ones. These were an appealing golden brown. The smell was pure heaven too. What came out of my Mom's oven was an even dozen perfectly baked biscuits. We were of course all ready to split these boys open, smother them in lumpy, which is what we called the gravy Mom made, and have at. Well, reality was not so kind. I don't remember what became of the lumpy. I do know none of it ever touched those biscuits. The visually perfect pucks of some flour based substance proved to be impregnable to any culinary implement man has ever invented. They were biscuit rocks and there was literally nothing we could do. They sat for days on our kitchen table in pristine and completely inedible beauty. Finally Dad took them outside and placed them on a stump underneath the bird feeder, where they would stay intact for a good month. One afternoon shortly there after I was outside when I heard this thunk and noticed one of the biscuit rocks had fallen out of a tree. As I watched, mister squirrel scurried down the tree, grabbed the same biscuit, and headed back up. A few minutes later.....thunk! Here it came again. Bless his little, flighty, rapidly beating heart, that poor squirrel was trying to bust that biscuit rock open. No doubt trying to get to some soft, edible goodness that surely must be inside. It was not to be. Despite their best efforts not one squirrel was able to get so much as a decent bite. Knowing squirrels, I imagine this tortured them no end. Squirrels are persistent little things after all.
Ultimately, the biscuit rocks were placed in a garbage back and sent to the landfill where I imagine they wait to this day to bewilder some future archaeologist.
Now, I know what you are thinking. I began this talking about the beginning of my cooking career. I am getting to that, but some background information was really necessary. Context is, after all, extremely important in these things. You see, after Mom became ill, after all the food the ladies from our church brought had been consumed, Dad once again invaded the kitchen. This time to cook. Que the Jaws theme music...... After about two weeks of that I decided one of us needed to learn how to cook or we were all going to die.
That is how it all started. And I did get better at it. Eventually.