My mother collected recipes. She had cookbooks and plenty of them but she also had recipes from magazines and from newspapers and thousands of recipes which she wrote out by hand. She’s been gone many years at this point and that collection of recipes has been sitting more or less untouched in our home, waiting for me to do something with them. The core of the collection is an old Purity Cookbook, into which she stuffed additional recipes until the binding of the book collapsed and the whole deal simply grew and grew, held together by elastic bands.
Now let me say that she was quite a cook, especially when it came to meat dishes and traditional Polish dishes. She was also an excellent baker. She wasn’t so good when it came to fresh veggies. She liked to cook them until she was sure they were dead, then cook them a while longer for good measure. I recall hating asparagus growing up. Mom served it up as a soggy gelatinous mass of goo that I couldn’t believe humans actually ate. It wasn’t until I was a young adult and I was served asparagus gently sauteed with garlic at some restaurant or another that I discovered the darn things were delicious.
I think my mom wrote out and collected so many recipes because she wanted to put together a cookbook at some point or another. I think this came about both because she loved cooking for the family but also because we had a genuine chef in the family and I’m sure there was some hint of jealousy there.
Uncle Harold and Aunt Virginia lived in Paris after the second war. Harold learned French cooking and studied music – he was a piano prodigy. They were also spies, but that’s a story for another day. After moving back to New York from Paris, Harold wrote Haute Cuisine Without Help. I have only a vague childhood memory of Harold coming to visit us in Toronto. I was pretty young. I recall him sending my brother and my dad out to catch some trout for him to cook for dinner. They did and he did.
Somehow or another I wound up with all the recipes. They are not organized at all really. I don’t know how many of them Mom actually cooked for us. I suspect she didn’t write down most of the recipes she regularly cooked because she knew them well. I suspect some of her recipes she kept because they looked interesting to her for one reason or another but many I’m sure she never cooked. They must come from a myriad of sources but she didn’t note the sources on the scraps of paper she wrote the recipes on.
My strongest memory of my mother’s cooking is from my childhood. I went to public school a block away from where we lived. One day at recess, I could smell the distinctive odour of cabbage rolls in the oven and I knew it came from our house. Years later I learned the smell came from salt pork – which she used to fry up the filling for the cabbage rolls – mixed with cabbage caramelizing on the edge of the roasting.
I’m going to try to write about some of Mom’s recipes from time to time. The first one she called Chicken & Sausage.
I chose this one because I make something similar today. I vary the sausages and usually I use chicken thighs. Also I add both sweet and hot peppers to the mix. I keep the sausages in bigger chunks, maybe cutting each into 3 pieces. My seasoning is a bit different, but close enough. She says to cover for an hour and then cook for a half hour uncovered. I think that’s a bit out of wack. I roast mine uncovered until everything is brown and wonderful and that takes maybe an hour or an hour and 15 minutes tops at that temperature.
I don’t recall eating this dish at home growing up, but it’s possible she did make it for us. Maybe my brother or sister would remember better than I do. For sure it is comfort food of the first order. I imagine back then it was more common for Mom to have a whole chicken cut up into pieces than to buy thighs or drumsticks packaged up the way they are sold today. We likely have access to a greater variety of sausages today. This is a great meal for a cold winters day.