In a previous post I am collecting all of the little aphorisms and catchphrases that my mother said throughout her life. By reading them you can hear her in her own words, and maybe her own voice. Here I will try to capture some of the foods and other things that she enjoyed in life. As with the list of Eleanorisms, this will be a work in progress indefinitely.
Poppyseed bread from Sanitary Bakery. We knew this as a holiday treat at Easter and Christmas, but recently discovered that it is available every Friday and Saturday from Nanticoke's favorite bakery. I started out buying one loaf each week, but by the end of 2022 I was buying two and even three loaves at a time. We began to worry that her heavy poppyseed habit might make some doctors think that she was addicted to opioids! Have a slice or six with butter - whipped butter is something I re-introduced her to during the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, although I remember it being available at Babki's house during Sunday breakfasts, at least some of the time.
Pork barbecues from Stookey's in West Nanticoke. I have no idea why these sandwiches - a blend of roast pork and Heinz India Relish (extra relish, please) served on a soft roll - are called "barbecues," but they are, deal with it. They're also simplicity itself to make at home: Break roast pork up into 3/4" x 1/4" slivers, mix with a roughly equal portion of Heinz India Relish (the specific brand and variety is important,) warm slightly on stovetop or (preferably) in a microwave (to avoid scorching,) and serve on a soft hamburger bun made with potato starch.
We had a bit of a scare in the last few years when Heinz India Relish - apparently the oldest product in the Heinz family - disappeared from our usual grocery stores. I found one store that reliably carried it and would make supply runs every six months or so, but that store went completely out of business last September. Fortunately, one of the stores that used to carry it (Gerrity's) is now carrying it again. I have at least six jars in reserve at home.
Home-made cookies and cakes from her sister-in-law Jan. Jan is married to Tony, my mother's sole surviving sibling, and she has put her own spin on classic recipes for things like Rocks and blueberry cake, making them soft, creamy, and delicious. Tony and Jan would routinely send packages full of cookies and cakes and other goodies throughout the year. They sent a package just before Christmas, and while my mother tried to ration them, she quickly ate all the cookies with her meals during her stay at Allied Services. Tony and Jan sent another package that arrived February 8, the day my mom fell and went to the hospital. Once my mom went back to Allied on February 12 I took some cookies from the new box straight up to her, and she got to enjoy them Sunday and Monday.
Chicken with Broccoli. My mom hates trying new things, but once she finds something she likes she stays with it. She was not a fan of Chinese food but loved chicken with broccoli. She was sad when she was told she had to limit intake of broccoli because it would interfere with one of her medications, but eventually was advised she could have some broccoli and cabbage in moderation.
Pigs in the blanket. I learned a few years ago that there are several different foods that go by this name, but for the Polish it means ground cooked pork and beef with rice, rolled in cabbage leaves and cooked in tomato sauce. Also known as golubki, pronounced "gowoompki." My cousin Paula's husband John had cooked up a batch and sent it over at Christmastime, and the extras went in the freezer when my mom went into the hospital. She got to enjoy an additional meal of it after she came home on February 3.
Lasagna and skillet lasagna. The first meal she wanted when she came home, from an "Ace in the Hole" quart container I set aside several months ago. Lasagna is simple enough - long broad noodles layered with sauteed beef and onions, ricotta cheese, sliced mozzarella cheese, her own secret ingredient of slices of American cheese, and spaghetti sauce. The prep can be a beast, so "skllet lasagna" is often preferred. Made in a large pot - not a skillet. The beef and onions are browned first in the pot, spaghetti sauce is added, then the ricotta and mozzarella, and finally cooked noodles. Malfada noodles are the preferred type, but these proved impossible to get when I was making this recipe, so I tried to substitute other trumpet-shaped noodles with unsatisfactory results.
Beef stew. Dice London Broil, coat it with flour, and brown it with onions, salt, and pepper in a large pot. Add cubed carrots and potatoes - each in a volume at least equal to the meat* - then add enough water to cover. Sift in additional flour, salt, and pepper, add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, simmer on low for several hours until the vegetables are soft and the sauce is thickened, stirring frequently to avoid burning on the bottom. Allow to rest before serving.
This was the last meal I made for her.
*In reality the proportions of vegetables to meat were much larger: for a 1.5-2 lb. London Broil, I use 1 large diced onion, 5-6 large potatoes peeled and diced, and 5-6 large carrots cleaned and diced.
Vegetable soup with beef. Essentially the same ingredients as beef stew, minus the flour and onions, plus green beans and wax beans. Boil the cubed London Broil and skim off the scum, or "shummy" - the fat that forms a gray foamy rim around the top of the soup. Once the shummy stops forming, add the diced carrots and potatoes and allow to simmer for a while before adding a small-to-medium can of sliced green beans and another of wax beans. Continue to cook for a total of at least two hours.
She had not had this for many years before I made it in November, and she greatly enjoyed it.
Pea soup/peas with barley: This used to be a regular way to dispose of the bones from our hams from holidays and throughout the year, until my mom developed a fondness for boneless hams. This year I made a point to get a spiral-cut bone-in ham, along with her usual boneless ham. She wound up in the hospital before I could make the soup, but I made sure she had some after she came back on February 3, and she loved it.
In a large pot, cook the bone of one ham with some meat left on. After the shummy stops forming, add onions, salt, and rinsed dried green peas. Cook until peas have softened and serve.
If not serving immediately, peas will dissolve into nothingness and the soup may seem thin. Either parboil additional peas and add to simmering soup to finish cooking, or cook and add some barley. The barley creates a different taste and mouth feel, but it is still delicious. My mom commented that she had not had homemade pea soup in many years, and she loved it.
Chili. This one is hard to relate. I have been tweaking the recipe for years to get it exactly the way she likes it, and with my last pot a few months ago I finally got it there. I had planned to have some ready for her when she came home on February 3, but didn't have time. After she fell and went to the hospital on February 8, I set to work gathering the ingredients and was all ready to make chili when I got the news of her stroke.
In a large stock pot, saute the ground beef, onions, and black pepper. If using 90% fat free or greater, add some oil or shortening; if using 80% fat free, pour off some (but not all) of the rendered fat into a can and discard in the trash (not down the drain.) After the meat (about 2 lbs.) has browned, add two large cans of diced tomatoes, one large can of crushed tomatoes, and one large (tall) can of kidney beans, drained, plus salt and black pepper. Simmer for about two hours. For best taste, refrigerate or, ideally, freeze and thaw before serving, allowing the flavors to blend. Yes, it's not a spicy chili, it does not involve chili peppers or flakes or powder, and it has beans, but that's the way she liked it. Unfortunately, I never got to make this most recent pot for her.
Once upon a time pierogies were strictly an ethnic food, though several different ethnicities claimed them. The first time I realized they might enjoy wider appeal was when two aliens ordered them at a diner in Men In Black. I don't remember if my grandmother made these, but I do know that they're a lot of work to make. These days they come in an enormous variety of favors, but my mom always stuck to potato (or potato and cheese), farmer's cheese, and cabbage (not sauerkraut.) She liked them boiled and lightly fried. Her favorites in recent decades had been made by the ladies of St. Mary's church. Unfortunately, their recipe was no longer used after the parishes of Nanticoke consolidated. She later became fond of Rentko's in Nanticoke, but they have become notoriously difficult to get in touch with in recent years. A new business called NEPArogi recently opened in part of the former location of Janison's on the edge of Nanticoke. She enjoyed their pierogies but they also became difficult to order from in late 2022. This Christmas I threw in the towel and bought some locally-made pierogies at a supermarket, and they were, surprisingly, acceptable.
Haluski is like an exploded cabbage pierogi. I thought I had posted the recipe here before, but I cannot find it. So here it is.
- 1 large head of cabbage
- 3 large onions
- 1 bag Mrs. Weiss Kluski (a rough-cut, thick egg noodle, available from Walmart and sometimes from supermarkets) (other egg noodles can be substituted, but may not produce the desired results)
- 1 stick of butter
- 1 tablespoon salt plus additional salt
- 1 tablespoon pepper
- wok or very large frying pan
- large colander
1. Put 2 large pots of water on to boil. One will be for the noodles.
2. Chop the cabbage fine, no larger than 1/4" x 1/4". I would sometimes use a grater, but this is not really necessary. Place in large colander. Add generous amounts of salt throughout. (You will be washing this away.) Set aside over sink for about 10-15 minutes.
3. Cook noodles in one of the pots of boiling water.
4. While noodles are cooking, pour the other pot of boiling water over the salted cabbage and allow to drain. The salt and boiling water will wilt the cabbage.
5. Chop onions to roughly the same size as cabbage.
6. Melt half a stick of butter in the wok over medium heat.
7. Add half of salt and pepper to melted butter.
8. Add drained cabbage and chopped onions to wok and use wok turner to thoroughly coat with butter.
9. Add drained cooked noodles and mix thoroughly.
10. Add remaining butter, cut into pats, and sprinkle in remaining salt and pepper.
11. Continue to stir over medium heat until noodles start to turn golden-brown.
12. Remove from heat and allow to rest before serving.
Homemade chicken soup is easy - one of the things she would have called an "Idiot's Delight," I guess. I enjoyed making it, and she enjoyed eating it. It tastes just like the soup my grandmother made.
- 3-6 pieces of chicken (legs, thighs, breasts) with bones included and skin removed, thawed
- 3-4 carrots, cleaned, cut into small pieces
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon whole allspice
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 sprig parsley, bruised and shredded
- Noodles (recommend Mrs. Weiss' Kluski)
1. In large stock pot bring water to a boil. Reduce heat and add chicken and some salt. Cook but do not boil for at least one hour, skimming shummy as it forms.
2. When shummy stops forming add chopped carrots, peppercorns, allspice, and salt
3. Run sprig of parsley over blade of sharp knife, bruising the parsley and breaking it up into smaller pieces. (I believe this increases the diuretic efficacy of the parsley.) Add to soup.
4. Allow to cook at least an additional hour. Chicken should cook in the pot for at least two hours.
5. Boil noodles (Mrs. Weiss' Kluski most resemble the homemade egg noodles my grandmother would make)
6. Serve, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Klupsi (aka Klupski)
A sort of Polish meatball. Rolled small, we used these as meatballs with our spaghetti. Larger ones would be served with diced potatoes and onions fried in butter. (I would routinely make just the larger ones, then break them into smaller pieces for spaghetti.) She would use exactly the same recipe to make meatloaf.
- 1 package half & half (half ground pork and half ground beef) or equal portions of ground pork and ground beef
- Large onion, chopped fine
- Oatmeal (at least 1 cup)
- 1-2 eggs
Combine all ingredients by hand until smooth. Amount of each would depend on the amount of meat you're starting with, but you will be using a surprisingly large amount of oatmeal. Roll into balls - 1" for meantballs, about 2.5" for klupsi - and fry in shortening on a pan on stovetop until brown. May be finished in oven at 350 degrees for about 30-45 minutes. May also put blended ingredients in a loaf pan or shallow baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 90 minutes to 2 hours.
Replace the meat with canned salmon to make salmon cakes. She preferred that I pick out the bones and skins, but this can be made with them included as long as you mash them with a fork (not recommended with the ground beef and pork.) Can also be made with a dash of Old Bay seasoning, but please don't tell her.
Polish sausage. or kielbasa, is a special treat that I fear much of the nation is missing out on. For many years we would traditionally have a sausage breakfast at my grandmother's house every Sunday. During the week my mom or my uncle would get rings of sausage and take them to my grandmother. She would walk the two blocks to St. Mary's of Czestochowa Church to attend 7:00 AM Mass, then come home and get started on the sausage for when her local children and grandchildren would stop down after 9:00 AM Mass. Polish sausage is made with pork and must be boiled for at least an hour. Much of it would be served straight out of the pot, but some my grandmother would put on a medium-sized frying pan and slowly fry in the juices from the cooking pot until it was brown - with a special treat being parts where the skin ruptured where the contents swelled and opened up onto the frying pan. Our primary sausage source closed down in the 1990s, so we had to shop around at various sources until we decided that Jerry & Son Market was the best. Every few months I would go on a sausage run. We would chop up the rings to smaller pieces, enough for a single meal, then individually wrap and freeze them. I tried to keep her meals varied, but I made sure she had sausage at least once every two weeks. I took mine with white bread, but she loved hers with Kosciuszko Polish mustard.
Smoked Sausage with eggs
Smoked sausage is another treat. It is Polish sausage that has been smoke-cured. You can eat it cold as-is, cooked, or my mom's favorite - sliced and fried with scrambled eggs and served with ketchup. In the last few years I have been slicing the sausage extra-thin and then chopping each piece into quarters.
Scrapple isn't Polish, but it's apparently uniquely Pennsylvanian. A gray-green loaf of pork ends mixed with cornmeal, spices, and other stuff, overall resembling a "white pudding" of British cuisine. Served fried. It is very bad for you, so I served it to her very infrequently.
My grandmother excelled at making fried fish, which I would greedily devour any time she made it. Usually cod, sometimes haddock or flounder, seasoned (with those traditional Polish seasonings, salt and pepper,) floured, dipped in egg, coated in bread crumbs, and fried. Try as I might, I have never gotten it to taste exactly like hers - I suspect she was using lard. But my mom enjoyed it every time I made it, usually on Fridays.
Macaroni and cheese
Another idiot's delight, and another meatless Friday classic. Elbow macaroni, cooked, then layered with butter and American cheese, with milk added as a finishing step (since that will cause everything to firm up.) My mom liked hers with a lot of cheese. I mean, a LOT. Like eating a block of cheese with macaroni cooked into it. She also liked to have a whole can of diced tomatoes added to the pot of macaroni and cheese, resulting in a totally different food experience.
Pineapple upside-down cake
Lemon Meringue Pie
Coconut Cream Pie
- One bag of cranberries
- One Red Delicious apple, diced
- One orange, seeds removed, diced
- The zest of one orange, finely grated
- Orange juice, about one cup
- Sugar, at least one cup
Combine ingredients in small batches in blender or food processor. Add enough orange juice to make smooth. Add enough sugar to sweeten to taste - I prefer mine quite tart, but she preferred it more like candy.
Boil unpeeled sweet potatoes and allow to cool. Pull off skins - they should simply fall off - slice, and arrange in single layer in skillet with lots of butter and brown sugar. Simmer on low for at least an hour, until sweet potatoes are soft.
I see no reason why the resulting product could not then be mashed into a pudding. Maybe I will try that next time.
Easier to deal with than a bone-in ham. Generally these can be eaten as purchased, but she always liked to take them through a cooking process: Place the ham in a pot full of water, add about a cup of white sugar and a cup of white vinegar, and cook for about two hours. (Sometimes I would experiment with brown sugar, but it made no noticeable difference in taste.)
Tomato Basil Soup
My sister got my mom hooked on the Tomato Basil soup from la Madeleine's in Colombia, MD. She has been sending jars of the condensed version of the soup - just add milk - but sometimes my mom wanted it when the official version was unavailable. So we found a way to make it directly: Campbell's tomato soup from a can (once the tomato soup shortage of the early pandemic had passed), made with milk, with copious dried basil added, all simmered slowly. It was a more-than-adequate replacement for the real thing, in my opinion. She liked it, too.
No recipe for this - she just liked having cole slaw with a lot of things, especially fish. I would buy the smallest container possible, and usually had to throw out 2/3 of it a week or two later.
My mom got hooked on the simple salads they served with lunch and dinner at Allied Rehab. Iceberg lettuce with tomatoes, cucumbers, and Italian dressing. I recreated their salad when she got home - Olive Garden is her favorite Italian dressing - and stocked up on more ingredients the day she went back to the hospital. I'll probably have to put them in the compost now.
Boscov's "homemade" fudge
Boscov's is a regional chain of department stores. They took over the old Boston Store in Wilkes-Barre, which had previously been Fowler, Dick, & Walker (or maybe it was the other way around.) In their basement they have a candy shop, and a setup for making fudge in-store. My mom is fond of their fudge, and would often have me get her some when I was there. I haven't entered the building since the start of the pandemic - its ventilation system is many decades old, and badly in need of an overhaul - so she has been happy to get fudge from Michael Mootz Chocolates, not far from our house.
Ice cream cones from McDonald's
Other (not-food) things:
The obituary pages
Talking on the telephone
Her family, especially her grandsons
Anyone who has known my mom in recent years might think of her as a crazy cat lady, and rightly so: while she now has only six cats - three of them nearly fifteen years old, and three just over four - her record was fourteen cats and a dog (after inheriting two cats and a dog from a neighbor.) But she, in fact, had dogs for many years before she got her first cat, and tropical fish - guppies and Neon Tetras, primarily - for many years before that. There was considerable overlap between pets, although we stopped having tropical fish after we determined one of our cats was eating them ("He deserves a treat now and then," my grandmother said when we told her about this in the nursing home.) She loved every one of her animal friends, and the death of each dog and cat brought her immense sadness. (The fish, not so much.) While we buried the first few pets, eventually we picked up the practice of having each one cremated, its ashes returned to us in a little wooden box. The boxes filled and eventually overwhelmed a section of her entertainment center, which she came to call "my mausoleum."
Worrying about people
Once upon a time not everyone was walking around with a camera app on a phone in their pocket. Way back in the 20th century cameras were relatively big, bulky things that used film - and unless you were using a fancy 35mm camera, had a fixed focus. More often than not, your photos would turn out blurry, out of focus, or with a thumb or camera strap in the picture, but you wouldn't know about it until two weeks later after you finished your roll of film (or film cassette,) dropped it off at the drugstore or Kmart to get it developed, and then got the pictures back.
Still, my mom loved to take photos. At any family gathering she would be sure to get everyone together to say "Cheeeese!" Dozens of photo albums and hundreds of unsorted envelopes of photos fill her house. Many of these photos do not include her. Fortunately, many hundreds of photos of her exist.
Decorating with artificial flowers
Christmas lights, Autumn leaves, and Spring blossoms
The color blue and its shades, especially aqua
Fire trucks and ambulances
Sirens would turn my mom into an excited little girl, running to the front window to see which way they were going. Living up the street from a nursing home, much of the time the answer was "To Birchwood, because someone pulled an alarm so they could see all those strong young men in their fancy outfits again." For many years she kept a scanner in her bedroom so she could hear the latest police and fire calls.
We were never really into sports in my house, but my mom always had a fondness for watching football on TV on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Especially running plays. She would get a bit over-enthused at times, screaming at the TV ("GET HIM! GET HIM!!!") and I would try to convince her to cam down.
She checked into Allied Rehab on Sunday, February 12. The Super Bowl was on that night, and I made sure I had that on her TV when I left. The score was 7-7 when they took her into the bathroom to get changed for bed, and 14-14 when I left for the night. I had a feeling this would be a "basketball game," with high scores and each team taking the lead from the other. Watching the game at home, even while dozing during the second half, I worried that all the excitement might be over-stimulating for her - even, I thought with a laugh, enough to give her a stroke.
It wasn't. We spoke the next morning, and I asked if she had stayed up to watch the game. She hadn't. She made it through the first half and watched the halftime show, which she enjoyed, though she thought Rihanna's outfit was too bulky. I told her that I had seen that the outfit was a tribute to a recently-deceased designer and might also have been to hide some rigging to keep her from falling to her death, though I couldn't see the attachment points or how it allowed her to move around. (Later that day Inside Edition would show how it attached from the bottom.) She had fallen asleep during the second half and her TV was left on all night - meaning that, since the Super Bowl aired on FOX, when she awoke in the morning she was greeted by FOX News. (She was able to get the channel changed as soon as someone came in the room.)
So, one of the last things she got to do before her stroke was watch the Super Bowl. I'm glad she got to watch some football one last time.
Church has always been always important to my mother. Not just the experience of being a Catholic or the weekly Mass, both of which were very large parts of her life, but the community of being a member of a parish. She was baptized in St. Mary's of Czestochowa in Nanticoke, and attended Mass there her entire life. She sang in the choir, even when she was the only one there. She had memories of hiding in the cellar of the convent for air raid drills during World War II. She loved the annual church bazaar, and even after it became impossible for her to go herself, she always sent me there with specific instructions on which goodies to buy and bring home. She wanted to be buried from St. Mary's, but that is no longer an option. She attended Mass from St. Faustina Kowalska parish online from the outset of the COVID-19 Pandemic until the recent decision to discontinue the livestreaming of the weekly Mass. Even after that, she has made a point to watch the mass from the Cathedral in Scranton each week on EWTN, even from her hospital bed. Even from her room in Allied Rehab. Even from hospice.