Competing with Mama: Sometimes you can't win


One thing my kids will never do when I'm dead and gone is sit around and say, "Remember Mama's apple pie, or her banana nut bread?" No, they won't do that, I can tell you.

Reason is -- I never was much of a baker, or anyway not since the '50s when I was home raising kids and didn't have a job. Sometimes back then when a baby was napping Betty Crocker and I whipped up a chocolate cake. But when I went to work we bought our baked goods.

Maybe they will talk about my tasty spoon fudge, the gooey stuff that you had to eat with a spoon because it never got hard, or my Jell-O ice cream that they loved.

Hey, I'd like to think they'd sit around and talk about the good points of my character, or the times when I quickly stretched a meal for six into 12, or played hide and seek with them instead of making a Boston cream pie.

The reason I brought this up is that back when I was first married nothing made me madder than when I had cooked a pork roast, for instance, and my husband said, "This is sure good, dear, but do you remember the way Mama stuffed the pork roast?" And his eyes would glaze over like he was having a Swedish massage.

I was only married one month when I baked a blueberry pie, and he said, "This is fine, honey, but I wish you could get Mama's recipe." And even now I don't like to hear the way in which "Mama" made corn bread.

First off, I never called my mother "Mama." I think it's more of a Southern thing. I guess it conjured up an image of a perfect mother/cook with a perpetual apron around her body with strings attached to the kids.

What recently brought my animosity to the foreground was when my husband's sister visited us from Texas. They talked a lot about their mother, which was nice until they started bragging in front of me about Mama's apple pies, gumdrop cakes and homemade jams.

Something about the word "Mama" makes me cringe, even now. Maybe I was jealous that I didn't stuff a pork roast as well as Mama did or that I didn't keep her gumdrop cake recipe.

My mother-in-law was a wonderful woman and I loved her. But she was a homemaker and did not have a job outside the house.

And what did I read this week? The October issue of Cooking Light -- a neat magazine devoted to good health and good food features -- had on its cover a juicy-looking apple pie, and the headline reads "Apple Pie Better than Mom's."

Apple season is here, inflaming my memories. Heck, anyone who can read can make an apple pie. And my generation can cook as well as Mom's or Mama's.

In Cooking Light, there are recipes for fancy apple variations from Streusel apple pies with the seeds from a vanilla bean to apple Frangipane tarts. Yum yum, and ho hum, is all I can say. Mama's pies were never that frilly. They were the straight stuff.

Confession: When we lived in West Texas years ago, I did not have access to the best in apples, so that's when I made my first mock apple pie. My kids loved it. A neighbor gave me the recipe. I bet you've made one but won't admit to it.

It's made with crackers soaked with a sauce of butter sugar and cinnamon. And I swear to you, you'd think it was the real thing.

Now Mama would have turned over in her grave.

The same recipe is on the Ritz cracker box right now, if you want to try it.

Sure, maybe my kids will remember me for my fake apple pie made with crackers. No, they will probably remember me best for the Tastykakes I put in their lunch boxes back when they were in grade school.

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