Friday, July 21, 2006

Nobody Does it Better

Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe
Claude Monet

My mother has always packed a wonderful picnic. I don't mean a cookout type meal, I mean a true honest-to-goodness checked cloth, wicker basket affair. My mom was Martha Stewart before anyone knew who Martha Stewart was.

Mom would line two large wicker laundry baskets with a pretty older or even antique tea towels and fill them to the brim with necessities and delicious treats before topping each off with another tea towel and tucking the ends in around it all.

There weren't paper plates or napkins or plastic cutlery. Mom used the real thing. She had an old set of dishes that she had found at a flea market and gently soaked to remove some of the signs of aging. She would stack those plates with real napkins between each to protect them and then add a set of flatware just as old as the plates and likewise bought at a flea market.

She brought along a blanket or quilt to spread on the ground and that was where we all sat, gathered around the food in the center.

Mom didn't serve standard picnic fare either. She would pack a generous amount of her fried chicken, cold but just as wonderful as the moment it was taken from the oven. Mom's potato salad was a must on these outings and was usually served from a large earthenware bowl with a real antique silver spoon.

I recall later in life looking at Victoria magazine and coming across photos of picnics that were laid out just as Mom's were. She is a true romantic at heart and a grilled hot dog served at a picnic table beneath a pavilion would never suit her. (Unless it was an old fashioned church picnic at Tipton Park in Tipton, Indiana!)

It took me years to realize what mom did to make her chicken so special. It's obvious that I learned the bulk of my cooking from Mom, neither of us like to write down recipes. I asked Mom many times how she made her chicken to be told that it was a standard breading procedure; flour, buttermilk, breadcrumbs. Ah, the buttermilk! That had to be it. I proceeded to try it out and found that although it was good, it wasn't "it". No matter what I did I couldn't duplicate that chicken.

Finally I was there one day to watch her from start to finish and figured it out. Mom doesn't use regular old breadcrumbs, she uses fresh. I don't mean fresh from the can, I mean she uses fresh un-toasted bread for her crumbs. She pops a few slices in her processor, whirs away and voila. For some reason those fresh breadcrumbs make all the difference.

I wish I had a recipe, but I don't. I'll just tell you that Mom uses fresh breadcrumbs, buttermilk, and only fries her chicken long enough to brown it before putting it all in the oven to finish up. Funny, even though I know the secret, like Mom's picnics, it's just not the same unless she makes it.


KFarmer said...

I gave up trying to make my mom's famous fried chicken a long time ago- She really is a wonderful cook and supper time at my house growing up was a treat. Even on sandwich night there was a platter of meats, cheeses, tomatoes, lettuce and home-made soup, and different breads and desert. This was prepared after she got home from work. Hell, no wonder I feel so inferior all the time. The woman is an angel sent straight from heaven... Gotta love our moms huh? :)

Annie said...

I know what you mean. I have tried to make some of my Mom's recipes under her direction and they just don't turn out the same. She always says: "There's just one ingredient you can't duplicate-the love I put into it". It's so true :)

KFarmer said...

Amen sister...

Rosemary said...

I spent months before Christmas last year trying to find someone in England who could help me with a recipe that had been handed down for generations, that my mother made. She made it from memory, and didn't have it written down anywhere. I found something similar, but it's not quite it.

I was planning on voting for you on BLOG VILLAGE, but I couldn't find your voting link.

Ian said...

Ah yes. No-one cooks like Mom does. There are still so many of my mother's recipe 'codes' that I have yet to crack. I sometimes think that she leaves things off the recipe cards on purpose.

Anne Coleman said...

Ah, it's not my own mother!

Funny, that book in my last post, one of the things the chef says about recipe reading is something I will have to post. He talks about how some things are just a "knowing" and have nothing to do with something you could write down in a recipe.

He says it so well I will really have to excerpt for you all.

Dirty, well, I didn't get a confirmation letter that I had been added so I didn't get around to a link! I have one up now, thanks for the heads up!

Rosemary said...

I don't send the confirmation emails. They come from the toplist script, and there must be some problem. Sorry about that. I suppose I'd better start sending an individual email of my own, just to be sure everybody gets one.

I'm proud to vote for you on BLOG VILLAGE!