Autumn, Cooking, Motherly Love: Part 1

I’m going to dedicate this entry to my mom, my dearest, best friend in the world. My favorite memories from childhood are simple and often connected to three simple things: fall, my mom, and my mom’s cooking. My mom’s cooking, in my mind, is the most authentic, wonderful and delicious that I have yet encountered. I now live near L.A. where the wealth of restaurants in a one mile radius outweighs the number of people in my entire hometown, but I would rather have her cooking on any given day than that of a premiere restaurant with an award winning chef. I say all of this only because I absolutely cherish what she was able to accomplish in our home and in her kitchen on a meager budget and without a Whole Foods anywhere in the state. That’s sort of like a modern day miracle.  (Don’t tell, but I still don’t think she even knows what a Whole Foods is).

I now read “mommy blogs” by the dozens on a daily basis and I find myself reading the loving tales of countless moms who are trying to be the real authentic mom. But somehow, when it comes to food, it just feels they’re missing the mark. It’s the “wanna-be” wholesome. “Wanna-be” from scratch. But it’s just generally not. It’s generic. It’s a modernized version of what they think it would’ve looked like 50 years ago and I don’t think it’s through any fault of their own. Real cooking just isn’t around as much and seems to have missed much of this upcoming mom generation. “Scratch” biscuits now means Pillsbury biscuits popped from the can and put in the oven more often than it means the Betty Crocker Cook Book, mixing bowl, wooden spoon in hand version.

Our way was “green” just because that’s how it was and “frugal” because there weren’t any other options. My family lived and breathed this new, hip, trendy “sustainability” all those years and the best part?  We had no idea. My motivation this fall is in bringing back the real farm wife cooking, the real, good old fashioned way.  

This means that I’m looking back to my roots, pretending I know about canning (sterile?) and baking (don’t ask unless it’s apple pie) and how one properly bakes a roast (I literally have no idea). Clearly, I have some catching up to do. But thankfully, I’ve got a momma who loves to share. I shot off an email to her this morning in fact, asking for a couple of her favorite recipes to share with you all.  But, before I reveal those in "Part 2", here are a few things I’ve been thinking a lot about lately when it comes to “Real Food”.

The Ingredients

When I imagine fall cooking, I instantly smell apples. I taste stew with roasted root vegetables, and I start salivating over mom's zucchini bread that melts in your mouth. My mom chose those ingredients, not because she knew that it was more eco-friendly to buy things in season and that weren’t shipped from across the globe, but because that’s what was available in her garden.  

Most of us are pretty savvy when it comes to this now. Heck, Trader Joes and Whole Foods even tell us where those apples came from so we know whether it was down the road or from Ecuador. However, my mom also loved fall cooking more than any other cooking, and one of the biggest reasons was because of how the food tasted and smelled. She chose the ingredients that filled the entire house with the aroma of cinnamon and apple and brown sugar carmelizing. She loved to greet my dad with a kitchen full of steam from a pot of stew that had been simmering garden veggies and homegrown beef all day. She showed her generosity and her love for her family, in a very large part, through her kitchen.

The Love

If you’ve ever watched Top Chef (I’m an addict, I’ll say it now), perhaps you will remember Carla. Carla did not win, but Carla nearly won and Carla claimed her food was winning quality because she put love in her food. There is a big difference between sneaking shredded carrots into meatloaf and putting shredded carrots in because you love cooking wholesome food and you love those who are eating the food. Like Carla, I’m a very big believer in the fact that food cooked with love does taste better. I’d like to say it’s a fact, but you know, how do we prove that?  Loved food is authentic and made to make you smile. It’s made to give you that “I can go conquer the world” feel when you walk away from the table. 

The Methods

When fall came, my mother turned into a canning, drying, cooking, baking machine. There was no bread machine, there were no pre-prepped foods. There were no recipe books, recipe blogs, no Pioneer Woman and no possible Google queries. There was just my mom who inherently knew how to cook after hours, days, years spent in that kitchen creating three course meals every single day of the year. Cooking, in its utmost raw form, is done from feel. A dish certainly can be made per recipe and taste amazing. When you pay for a celebrity chef to cook you something authentic, you pay for something that was created deep in the depths of his mind because he alone had a vision that those 5 ingredients together would blow your mind. Real cooks have that intuition, that feel for food, sometimes inherently, but more often they have learned it from a whole lotta time spent in adventuring and making mistakes. And their food? It’s generally the stuff that knocks your socks off, whether it’s a plated meal in LA from Mr. Puck himself or a ranch meal on a Sunday afternoon in Montana with a pot roast rub that only your mother knows the secret to. I happen to think it’s the same idea deep down.

For Now

I leave you with loving thoughts of food today. Comfort food. Perhaps your dinner tonight calls for a simmering creamy potato soup and rustic homemade bread shared with your family? Stay tuned for Part 2, in which my mother gives a zucchini side dish and an apple desert dish that I think you’ll fall in love with and pour your own love into when you recreate it. But for today? I’m going to start simple. I’m going to find some local ingredients and just play around with them. Who knows what it will turn out like, but I don’t think that’s what matters. It’s the time, the effort, and the love. Maybe someday, I’ll even cook like my momma. Maybe.

Go to Part 2 of this article.

Tara Alley is a Montana girl at heart gone Californian for just a season. A local food lover, you'll never find her without avocados or fresh berries in the fridge and when not blogging, you'll probably find her baking in the kitchen in her never ending attempt to become half the cook her mom is. Someday, she'll return to Montana where she plans to live off the land and be forever surrounded by milk cows and chickens once again. Tara is currently writing for an online company and their upcoming winter fireplace heater guide.