I recently read an article by a writer who described his mother’s wonderful dinner parties. She loved to entertain friends and family at a well-appointed table laden with delicious food and well-paired wine.
She liked cooking and was very skilled in the kitchen. She also had an exacting profession at which she worked full-time hours.
The article was a “good read.” The part that really grabbed my attention, however, was the author’s description of how his mom had written a synopsis of her dinner parties — each and every event, one by one, as they occurred — for decades.
She recorded every turkey, roast and salmon filet, plus side dishes, salads and dessert and she named each guest around the table.
When the two got together and read together what his mom had written over the years, it brought memories of foods, people, trends and life changing times flooding back for both of them.
The way that mom balanced the elements of her life to get full measure from each really made me think about the discipline it took to pull it all together.
As she wrote about planning her dinner parties, some themes emerged and stood out, probably because they sounded so familiar. Like all good cooks, this mom had her shortcuts. Her son wrote about how she would lean on several staple recipes for side dishes that went with just about anything. They were served often over time. One reason she wrote everything down might have been so she didn’t serve the same side dish to the same people time after time.
Mom also divided up her chores so she came at the big dinner over two to three days, leaving little for the last minute. That’s the same way I go about holiday meals. Prepare some food ahead, set the stage (or the table) and add to it as the time grows short, keep a list of what you’ll serve and who’s bringing what.
I guess my columns are as close as I’ll get to journaling all my dinner parties. One thing’s for sure after 22 years of My Mother’s Kitchen all of you pretty much know what foods I put on our table and how to prepare most of them.
My late mother-in-law, Dorothy Conway, used to make a sweet potato side dish she served at holidays. It is a little different from the typical sweet potato casserole — very pretty on the table, less sweet than many traditional sweet potato dishes, with a flavor all its own. It reminds the children and me of holidays that included a drive down to North Carolina for family dinners.
Make them for Thanksgiving. You’ll love them.
GRANDMA DOT’S SWEET POTATOES IN ORANGE CUPS
6 thick-skinned oranges
4 cups sweet potatoes, boiled and mashed
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamon powder
roasted pecan pieces
Slice oranges in half horizontally. Place the orange pulp in a medium bowl. Throw away the white fibrous material between the sections.
To the orange pulp, add sweet potato, sugar, cinnamon, and cardamon. Mix thoroughly. Fill orange rinds with sweet potato mixture.
Top with pecan pieces and mini marshmallows. Bake in preheated oven 45 minutes or until heated through and marshmallows on top are golden.
Linda Conway Eriksson can be reached at email@example.com.