By Contributor Regan Jones, RD, The Professional Palate
I, like most anyone involved in the food business, have a lot of childhood memories that revolve around food. Most involve women of my family; many are good food memories; a few are not. Take for instance, the Thanksgiving holiday that my mom’s mom (who normally doesn’t “do” the dressing) didn’t skim the fat from the turkey drippings and used all of them in the dressing. One word: grease. (To her credit, Mawmaw makes a mean blackberry wine cake... just don’t tell that to folks in her Sunday school class.)
Or how can I forget the salmon patties my own mother offered on her menu so frequently during my childhood? Two words: No thanks. I hear from those who like salmon patties, hers were quite tasty. I’ll take their word for it. Mom has a host of other things she’s really good at it, both in the kitchen and out. I choose to enjoy those instead. She typically does “do” the dressing at the holidays and nobody, I mean nobody, does it better.
And then there are the food memories of my dad’s mother, Ween. Three words: An amazing cook. Seriously, ask anyone who knew her. Admittedly not everything in her kitchen was a success, but it was always open, always busy and almost always, filled with something you’d want to take a second helping of. When she died unexpectedly in an accident at her home, we even found a pot of peas simmering on her stove... yep, never a cold burner at Ween’s house.
So as Mother’s Day approaches I think of these women, the special memories I have of each of them and the tastes I’ve shared with them over the years. In Ween’s case, I also think of how very, very much I miss her. I learned to cook in her kitchen and truly developed a life long love of food by her side. Retreating into her kitchen was like stepping into my own little cooking show. She was the audience, food stylist and producer. And the words of praise were plentiful.
She’d set up the ingredients in individual bowls, get out my measuring spoons, cups, etc., and I would bake away. She would talk about the right way to level flour in a measuring cup and would, with conviction, detail how dry measures were used for dry ingredients and wet measures, for wet... never the two to be confused.
And Plum Cake was where it all began. I haven’t made this cake in years... until this week. As looked online for version that resembled hers, I found many other cooks like myself have very fond memories of this cake (which is prepared mostly like a quick bread), too. It’s perhaps not as fancy a modern day dessert as you’d read about on a restaurant menu. And it should, I guess, be called Plum-Apple Cake as “plum” baby food is fairly obscure these days (although Plum Cake does have a better ring than Prune Cake, no?)
Ultimately, you can call it whatever you want. No matter the name, it’s a recipe that holds some very cherished memories. It is a reminder that often times a recipe is more than just words in name, ingredients on a list or directions on a page. It’s the story behind a memory that gets better with every bite.