My Mother's Cookbook
More Summer Fare: Cabbage, German Potato and Chicken Salads; Fried Chicken
During the years I was growing up, a stone fireplace stood in our backyard, built in the 1930s by an itinerant who’d showed up at our kitchen door looking for work. Mom used to tell me that these men would walk the six or so blocks from the railroad tracks, knocking on doors to ask for work in exchange for food. She helped them as much as she could, just as most people tried to do in that time of the Great Depression.
The fireplace never did work well, and I remember my dad’s frustration at trying to get a decent fire going in it. But he always managed to start enough of a fire for us to roast hot dogs and marshmallows, all we children cared about anyway.
The backyard was bordered by high shrubs, and our parents brought out the white and blue canvas captain’s chairs for the summer months. They liked to invite friends with their children over for cookouts around the fireplace. Dad always had his camera ready and captured some of those occasions on film.
One such picture is of a boy named Tom and me. We are toddlers sitting together in a lawn chair, my leg casually draped over his and his hand on my thigh. The story goes that his mother suggested that he kiss me. Younger than me by a year but obviously precocious, he obliged.
Our inadequate fireplace made an ideal den for garter snakes, and my brothers made them come out by poking long sticks into the openings. As we grew older the fireplace was replaced by a portable barbecue grill. It fell into disuse and disrepair, and the snakes were left in relative peace.
One of the most enduring salads in my mother’s cookbook reminds me, whenever I make it, of the often-told story of her father’s cabbage salad. It was his specialty, and he took care to shred the cabbage into thin, even slices. Father, as she called him, often fixed this salad for family potluck picnics.
The story turned poignant when Mom explained that after Father had lost his farm during the rural land depression of the early 1920s, an unkind relative had whispered that cabbage salad was all her family could afford.
Regardless of its cost, cabbage salad is a refreshing side dish for picnics and with fish, seafood or chicken any time of year.
Father’s Cabbage Salad
1 medium head of cabbage
2 or 3 stalks of celery
1 small sweet onion
1 fresh tomato (optional)
½ green pepper (optional)
1 cup mayonnaise
1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
Shred cabbage as fine as possible. Add chopped celery and onion; chopped green pepper and tomato if used. Toss with mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste carefully so there’s some zest to it! Serves six.
Another recipe that reflects Father’s ethnic heritage and his appreciation for good food is German potato salad. Mom served this warm salad on cooler nights when hints of autumn could be detected in the shortening summer days. Easy to make with ingredients that are usually on hand, this is a quick and easy accompaniment to whatever kind of frankfurter or sausage that appeals, grilled either outdoors or in.
German Potato Salad
2 to 3 potatoes
1 small onion
2 strips of bacon
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 clove garlic
Peel and dice potatoes and cook in salted water until just tender. Drain thoroughly and add to diced onion in serving dish.
Dice and brown the bacon, reserving 2 tablespoons of fat and setting aside the cooked bacon in a small bowl. In the same skillet, combine the fat with vinegar and minced garlic; heat until steaming. Pour hot dressing over the potatoes and onion, tossing gently. Add pepper and taste for flavor, adding more vinegar if needed. Sprinkle with bacon bits before serving. Serves two.
©2006 Margaret Cullison for SeniorWomenWeb