My Mother's Cookbook: My Brothers' Favorites
Side Meat with Hominy, Mrs. Foster's Stuffed Peppers,
Roquefort Dressing and Armida's Antipasto
Birth order experts say that a girl born into a family of older boys enjoys one of the best positions, especially if she marries an oldest or only child. I guess that’s because she’s used to following after her big brothers, although that habit hasn’t always worked in my favor.
I agree with the theory though, because I know the advantages of having two big brothers. Ben and Alan knew me better than anyone else during my formative years and influenced me as much, if not more, than my parents.
From my brothers I absorbed the basics of how boys think and act the way they do, and I learned to respect those differences. They taught me essential things like how to identify cars by their front grills and make sense of high school algebra. They often teased me, but that helped me learn resilience. They protected me as best they could, which made me feel secure.
When we were kids, we spent our summer days at the swimming pool that had been built during the 1930s as one of Franklin Roosevelt’s public works projects. We were lucky to have such a fine pool in our town of 4,000 people, and it gave us a means to play out our energy during the long vacation from school.
Watched over by life guards, we’d swim and dive all afternoon almost every day but overly-crowded Sundays. We usually had a few nickels to spend at the snack stand on candy or popsicles. Then we trudged the ten blocks home, all sun burnt, waterlogged and ravenous.
As we reached puberty the pool became a place to hang out with our friends in hopes of seeing whatever member of the opposite sex our fickle hearts focused on that week. An unforgettable story about my brothers occurred when Ben was about fourteen. Being more than three years older than Alan, he may have thought the girls would like the caper he masterminded. Alan never has cared about attracting attention, but he did like to clown around in those days.
I was sitting with my girlfriends on the warm concrete by the shallow end of the pool that day when my brothers ran out of the bath house wearing dresses. Our mother had saved a few 1920s-style dresses, already classics twenty years later when her sons got hold of them. They certainly attracted my attention as they ran the length of the pool, scrambled up the high diving board and cannon balled into the water.
Probably the other kids found this prank funny, but I was too worried about the dresses to laugh. I knew they were important to Mom. She’d worn the handsome brown velvet dress on the September afternoon she married our father.
They hid the soggy remains of those dresses in a corner of our back porch, hoping to delay discovery of their blunder. Mom found them soon enough, but she loved her boys more than any dress and forgave them.
Such rambunctious boys needed to eat, and she fed them well. The recipes that Ben and Alan asked her to include in the cookbook reflect their fondness for those hearty meals. Although side meat and hominy are regional foods often associated with the south, Iowa produces corn and hogs and we liked both. My mother served this combination for a weekend breakfast or weekday lunch.
Side meat comes from the pig’s side or belly, which also produces bacon and salt pork, but side pork is neither cured nor smoked. The flavor of side meat may not appeal to some people, and bacon or pork sausage may be substituted. Reduce the calorie and cholesterol content by using chicken or turkey sausage and browning the hominy in butter.
Side Meat and Hominy
1 pound sliced side meat (rind removed)
2 cans hominy, drained
Salt and pepper, to taste
Brown the side meat over low heat, salting as it cooks.
Remove the meat and keep warm while browning hominy in some
of the fat. Serves four.
My brothers and I liked to draw, and we’d often spread out on the living room floor with our pencils and paper, using magazines as drawing boards. This pastime kept us busy for hours, a condition our mother probably appreciated in colder weather when we couldn’t play outside.
Ben drew airplanes and cars, depicting scenes of cars colliding or planes covered with Nazi swastikas, trailing fire as they dive-bombed to earth. Alan liked to draw funny pictures, popular characters of the time like Sad Sack and Kilroy or cartoons that he made up. I, the romantic dreamer, concentrated on brides, princesses and ballerinas. I don’t recall either of my brothers making fun of my little girl efforts.
We didn’t talk much during those sessions, because the drawing completely absorbed us. Often we’d draw while waiting for dinner to be ready. I realize now how idyllic those silent times were, three kids engrossed by imagination while waiting to be called for another good meal.
One of those meals would have been stuffed bell peppers. The recipe in Mom’s cookbook is from a good friend of her mother’s. Mrs. Foster lived next door to my grandmother in a brick apartment building in Omaha. They always called each other by their proper names, an old-fashioned politeness unusual in the less formal mid-20th Century.
Mom used green peppers for this dish because of their availability in winter. Substituting red or yellow peppers gives color and a milder taste.
Mrs. Foster’s Stuffed Peppers
1 pound tube sausage
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 large fresh tomatoes, chopped
or 1 14-ounce canned diced tomatoes
1½ to 2 cups cooked rice
1 teaspoon each thyme and sage
Salt and pepper
4 green, red or yellow peppers
Brown the sausage in a large skillet, breaking it in small pieces as it cooks. Add onion, tomatoes, rice and seasonings and simmer uncovered while preparing the peppers.
Wash, core and seed the peppers. Either split them in half or leave whole. Drop into a pot of salted boiling water and parboil for five minutes or until just tender when pierced with a fork.
If using whole peppers, stand them upright in an oven-proof dish. Or arrange halved peppers, open side up, in the dish. Fill the peppers with sausage mixture, putting any extra around the peppers. Bake in oven at 325 degrees for 20 minutes. Serves four generously.
My parents were excited about a recipe for Roquefort dressing that Dad brought home from the Pump Room, that elegant restaurant at the Ambassador East Hotel on Chicago’s Gold Coast. He must have had the good fortune to eat there while in Chicago for the Republican National Convention in 1948. The restaurant had opened a decade earlier and is still famous today for fine food and the celebrities who congregate there.
In her version, Mom added lemon juice for zest. Usually she wouldn’t have considered buying bottled French dressing, the thick orange kind, but she appreciated the small amount called for in the recipe.