Mom was good at many things. She had a terrific work ethic, loved saving money, and an obsession for keeping our home spic & span, windows included. When Mom learned something new, knitting, gardening, flower arrangements, her goal was to be an expert in that endeavor whether it was a hobby or something as trivial as a new recipe.
This-be the best you can be didn’t lend itself to the breakfast table however. Mom should have been a super breakfast planner/cook. She was highly organized and a good cook with everything she attempted. I attribute her lack of bubbling enthusiasm/expertise of all things breakfasty due to her lack of coffee addiction. She just never was a coffee nut. She would drink coffee to be polite when we were entertained by another family after church on Sunday nights, but never acquired that coffee craving the way Dad did. (He took coffee in his thermos to work everyday whether it was -28 or 95 above).
It wasn’t that Mom thought I was better off heading to school with nary a crumb in my tummy. She thought I should eat something, but since she rarely ate anything before dinner (noon meal) she wasn’t well versed in breakfast planning/foods. Dad liked Wheaties or Rice Krispies (topped with a sliced banana) but he didn’t eat either before going to work. What was that about? Both of them rose at the crack of dawn, you’d think they’d grab something healthy or Mom would fix breakfast, yet neither were compelled to that whole ‘breaking the fast’ after a night’s rest. Cold cereal was a nighttime snack for him. (He ate 1/2 package of instant oatmeal, cooked in the microwave every night for at least the last 5 years of his life).
The Gerritson pantry never housed much cold cereal, probably resulting in the reason I’ll only eat 2 cold cereals (oddly enough neither Wheaties or Rice Krispies) of the 487 varieties now offered. When my kids were young I think we averaged at least 6 different cold cereal choices at all times. Mom had normal breakfast fare in her repertoire of cooking skills but they were never offered in the a.m. If we were hungry for pancakes, French Toast (made with Hillbilly Bread) fried or scrambled eggs, bacon & toast, we ate it for supper, not breakfast. I’m not opposed to breakfast at supper time, maybe because I seldom ate breakfast food-for breakfast. I’ve often thought a big breakfast was too heavy of a meal in the morning.
So back to Mom, little Neese and the breakfast dilemma before school all those years ago. My # 1 choice was toast. Half the time, toasted with real butter. That’s it. Topped with jam occasionally but when butter wasn’t enough, I’d usually choose cinnamon/sugar. Not separately but mixed together. Mom used to buy a small plastic container (yellow?) of cinnamon/sugar already mixed. (Goodness, I haven’t thought about that in well over 50 years). Wonder why she didn’t mix it up herself? Convenience? I don’t think it was very expensive. When you took off the lid, there were small holes like a salt shaker in the top so I could sprinkle it on my toast.
Before I got a bit older (later elementary/junior high) and Mom’s work schedule required an earlier start time, she was happy to make me a bowl of oatmeal. Set the smallest pan on the stove with a cup of water, couple shakes of salt and wait for it to boil. Pour in a half cup of Quaker Quick Oats, boil it for a minute and let it rest for 5 minutes. Dump it in a Corelle cereal bowl, dot the top with a couple pats of butter. I can only remember eating oatmeal with brown sugar (never white) and milk. I still eat oatmeal with brown sugar and milk but haven’t topped it with butter since I was a kid. I wasn’t fond of Cream of Wheat so oatmeal was the only hot cereal on our menu.
Mom wasn’t fond of making a sink full of dirty dishes before she went to work, (she couldn’t leave them until noon or when she got home from work. No, that just didn’t do it for her neat-nick personality) Mom made perfect soft boiled eggs (again only requiring one small pan). If she was making eggs for me, she’d make some for Dad at the same time, though he had already left for the State Shop. When my 2 eggs were done to perfection (solid whites, yolks runny), she’d pluck them out of the boiling water, then continue boiling the other 2 hard for Dad’s lunch pail the following day. After cooling mine off under cold water so she could handle them, she’d grab a butter knife and wop off the top half inch of egg-shell and all. Set them on a plate with toast where I’d use a spoon to dig out bites of the runny yolk egg. Our household was not high on the use of salt or pepper so I can say with certainty I never used pepper on eggs (or much else) but think I used a pinch of salt on them.
Where meals were concerned, (other than breakfast where she did not excel), Mom had a plan. She took out chicken, a beef roast, hamburger or pork chops from the freezer and often did prep work on her lunch break. She’d brown the meat and stick it in the fridge during the afternoon so she could pop it in the oven as soon as she got home. I can’t remember eating macaroni and cheese, Campbell’s Tomato soup, or Spam when I was a kid. Ever. Once in a while we’d have TV dinners, if Mom had something to do that night, maybe ladies aid at church or a fun filled night at the laundromat. With TV dinners or pot pies, we always ate Swanson’s brand (although they were usually our Sunday-after-church-meal for Dad and I when Mom worked every other weekend at Valley Manor) but that was not the norm. Mom cooked from scratch almost every night. Meat, potatoes, vegetables and gravy. There might be something sweet to eat afterwards but she never went all out for the dessert portion of our meal. Pinwheel cookies, Oreos, Pecan Sandies or maybe an ice cream treat like a fudge bar or ice cream sandwich. Some were homemade, (she made the best sugar cookies) some store bought.
I never fully appreciated Mom’s dedication to mealtimes. Not haphazard, or packaged, it was like she had a 45 day menu plan ever looping in her head. If she was stumped, she’d ask me or Dad if we were hungry for something specific-but not the day of. No, that one was already in the books (her head). Never figured out until recently, I’m exactly the same way. I head to the basement and grab 3 or 4 main course ideas from the freezer. Haul them all upstairs and decide what I’m craving for tonight. The rest just thaw in the fridge and for the next 3 days I know what our big meal is gonna be. I might do a bit better in the breakfast department than Mom, scrambled eggs, pancakes and French toast are my specialties. I find it endearing that I tend to do things the way Mom did in the kitchen, though I think I’m a little better cook/baker than she was. She definitely ruled in the Divinity, 7 minute frosting categories and her cinnamon rolls are hard to beat.
It was a definitely a different era. Still most of my friend’s moms cooked when I was in school. Though times were changing, many of the moms started to work outside the home. Maybe some gave up home cooked suppers on certain nights because time was in short supply after they were employed. Mom however continued to make supper every night until I was long gone and her health began to fail. I should have appreciated you more Mom. Sorry. Thanks for my lame breakfasts, good dinners when I didn’t stay at school for hot lunch. And all the tasty suppers you cooked-even after you were working full time…