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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mama's Day! - Mama and the Wine

We're not cooking today but rather remembering Mama as it's Mother's Day. Although she passed away some years ago, I can't help thinking of her when I'm in the kitchen. In fact, when I was putting together the Le Marquis et Creme Beurre, Menagere I could almost hear her whispering, "Call it whatever you want to baby, but it's a chocolate cake with some butter cream frosting." I did have to giggle. Several friends commented that it sounded so "sexy" and that would have tickled Mama to no end.

Of course, she was a pretty straightforward cook. Her food was delicious and without pretense which is often the best kind. In her kitchen taste always trumped presentation. After all, she thought chefs who said people "eat with their eyes" needed some lessons in anatomy. Taste was first and if it was pretty too, then that was so much the better. But pretty could never make something nasty taste good.

Around 1992 or 1993, I don't recall the specific date, she had moved into a small apartment. My father had died in 1990 and she'd broken her hip and had a number of complications a couple years later. So, she gave up her house and, with my youngest nephew who took care of her until her death, moved into "town."

Around the same time I had a good friend from London who was visiting. He was a lobbyist for Parliament and had decided to spend a month or two in the States visiting American friends. For about 2 weeks we toured historic areas of South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina. We had a blast and he was fascinated with our colonial history and even our accents that retained so many archaic English words from the Restoration and Elizabethan periods. In fact, he presented me with a wonderful social history called "Albion's Seed: Four English Folkways in America." He also presented me with a very, very expensive bottle of Port whose brand is used in the House of Lords for traditional royal toasts. To this day, I have had few socio-historical discussions more interesting than those over dinner or lunch with Stuart following tours of historic sites.

After Stuart returned to London, I stuck the bottle of Port in Mama's pantry and promptly forgot about it. I'd intended to open it later in the year with some friends and since I was taking care of my grandmother, did not want to keep it in her cabinet (she was devoutly Methodist and disapproved of "liquor").

A few months went by and my very expensive Port went unnoticed. Then came the Christmas holiday season and the baking began.

Each year Mama would bake dozens of real fruit cakes, trays of cookies and candies and other assorted goodies for everyone she knew. One component of the fruit cakes was that they had to be soaked for several days in wine. Normally, she purchased a fairly inexpensive red wine at the grocery store. After all, the fruitier the wine the better in her book.

This year, though, she happened to notice my bottle of "wine" in the cabinet. After all, to her anything made from grapes and fermented is "wine" be it port, sherry, or Blue Nun! After work one night (I was chief ortho tech at a local hospital) I dropped by her apartment. There on her counter were a dozen fruitcakes and next to them my bottle of $300 Port!

Yes, those fruitcakes were soaking in my "wine"! I think my scream rattled the glass. My beautiful bottle of Port, the Port used to toast the Queen in Parliament was currently soaking into fruitcakes.

I grabbed what was left and quickly poured a glass. Of course, there were no wine glasses in Mama's house so it was a jelly glass from a Hardee's promotion circa 1978. Still, it was exquisite Port. But, all I managed to salvage was about a glass. The rest would be presented to friends in her fruitcakes. I'm sure those were the most flavorful ones she'd ever given for the holidays!

After that, I always made sure that she had plenty of her usual brands in the cabinet when it came baking season!

So, that's Mama and the Wine. Now, I think I'll have a glass of Port this evening with dinner and continue to reminisce about Mama.

If you've got a special Mama you want to honor today here are some suggestions for fabulous dishes:

Perfect 3 Egg Omelette
Banana Crunch Muffins
Cinnamon Rolls

Be sure to check out some of Mama's favorite recipes in Sweet Decadence: 101 Favorite Recipes (it also makes a great gift for your Mama!)


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