I recently read an article about what people were eating 50 years ago. I began to think about what my mother-in-law, Jan Jan, prepared for her family.

We moved into my husband’s parents’ home last summer. She passed away a little over two years ago. I often think of her, especially when I am cooking.

As a home economics major, I knew a great deal about food and cooking. I have enjoyed being in the kitchen and preparing food since I was about 8 years old. My mama and mamaw were excellent cooks, and I learned a great deal from them. I did not, however, prepare many of the things that were my husband’s favorites. He would often ask his mama to show me how to prepare something, and she would scold him incessantly. It did not bother me, because I wanted to learn to make his favorites.

Mama was a health-conscious cook before it was the norm and increased in popularity. The first time I had Jan Jan’s gravy I thought I had died and gone to culinary heaven. She showed me how she prepared gravy several times before I could get it right — it is still hit or miss! My roast gravy is usually great, but that fried chicken gravy often eludes me.

My first attempt at fried chicken with rice and gravy was catastrophic. I fried the chicken for more than two hours. It was beautiful and could have graced the cover of any food magazine. I did not know this, but you can actually fry the meat smooth off the bone. There was nothing there but a very fine crust, I might add. My gravy can only be described as edible chicken flavored Play-Doh. We had been married for three months, and I’m sure Steve wondered what he had gotten himself into. He might still be thinking the same thing almost 40 years later.

Steve told me he loved salmon croquettes. I prepared them, and we sat down to eat. He asked me what had happened to them. His mama made hers in an oblong roll shape, and mine were flat. Once again, she gave him the “evil eye” when he asked her to show me how to make them the right way.

About a month ago, I finally made a decent pan of homemade biscuits that were not referred to as “hockey pucks.” That was another one of her specialties. Some mountains are too high to climb. I know I will never make a biscuit as good as hers.

Steve wanted roast beef hash, and once again I had to figure out how to prepare this favorite — leftover chopped up roast simmered with onion and beef broth. After about an hour, add chopped potatoes, cook until tender, season, and serve over rice. This is one of my absolute favorites. I often prepare a roast just to have the hash.

When we married, I had spent many hours in a food lab. I was even part of a group that prepared and served baked Alaska. They don’t teach you how to cook Mama’s favorites. But, let’s face it, nothing has ever tasted as good as when your mama made it. A mother’s love is one ingredient for which there is no substitute.

I hope you will enjoy today’s recipes. They are from my sweet mother-in-law’s recipe book. Thanks for reading.

JAN JAN’S BROCCOLI CHEESE SOUP

2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped broccoli, slightly thawed

3 cans cream of mushroom soup

1 (16-ounce) package Mexican Velveeta cheese

3 soup cans of water

1 teaspoon Accent

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan, and cook on low heat for about an hour. Serve topped with grated cheese and croutons.

JAN JAN’S POTATO CASSEROLE

6-7 medium white potatoes, sliced thin

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 small can Pet milk

1 cup grated cheese

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Prepare a sauce with the soups, milk, Worcestershire and cheese. In a 13-by-9-inch baking dish, layer the potatoes with the sauce. Dot with butter. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for one and a half hours.

JAN JAN’S STRAWBERRY CONGEALED SALAD

2 small packages of strawberry Jell-O

2 (10-ounce) frozen strawberries

2 cups boiling hot water

1 cup drained crushed pineapple

2 large bananas, diced

1 cup chopped pecans

2 cups sour cream

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Add strawberries to thaw. Combine pineapple, bananas and pecans, and add to gelatin mixture. Pour half of the mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. When it is set, spread sour cream over entire surface. Then, add remaining strawberry mixture for a top layer. Allow to set, and cut in squares to serve.

• Contact Lee Ann Flemming at lafkitchen@hughes.net.

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