My Mom was a fabulous cook. Nothing fancy. Just delicious.
Her real talent though was “stretching things”. We had a summer house and if eight extras showed up (which was not unusual), she could produce one fine meal. The tricky part was that our summer house was on an island! It was a long swim to the nearest supermarket!
“Shirl” as we affectionately (and sometimes cautiously) called her, was a no nonsense type of woman.
We lived in a three family house on the north side of Syracuse. On the first floor was my family (Mom, Dad, my brother Bill and me) and on the second floor, there were two apartments. My grandmother lived in one (an amazing woman! Liberated before the word liberated became popular). In the other apartment were my grandmother’s cousins. They were in their 80’s and Lora could bake an apple pie that we were certain would take first place at the New York State Fair if it had ever been entered.
One evening, my father was bringing home an important client and dinner was to be served in the dining room. My mother used a big cast iron Dutch oven for pot roast and that was the headliner on the menu. Because she wasn’t a great baker, she convinced my cousin Lora to bake one of the famous apple pies.
My brother and I were coached for a couple of days before hand….if the guest complimented the apple pie, we were to just say nothing. She would simply say “thank you”.
The night of the dinner arrived and when dessert was served, the guest RAVED. Instead of the practiced thank you, my mother blurted out “Okay, okay…I didn’t make it!!!” That story was always a classic.
Our Dad owned a company and our summer house was used to entertain his customers. My mother would do an amazing menu plan that could put my Inn menu to shame. Here we were on an island and she would have everything organized down to the last olive! But, one Sunday morning she was frantic. We had run out of milk. Scrambled eggs were on the menu and she always made hers with milk. Always the innovator, she pulled out a bottle of club soda and made the eggs with that. They were the BEST scrambled eggs we ever had—-fluffy and light—and to this day, we keep club soda in the Inn pantry for that very reason.
For a month before she passed away, my mother was in the hospital. She liked to be called about 7:45AM when the nurses would be in her room. She would put her hand over the receiver and say to the nurses “My daughter owns an Inn. Let me ask her what’s for breakfast”. She would relay everything I told her to the nurses who would seemingly ooohh and aaaahhh and then she would say to me in a whisper “Can’t you just get a damn scrambled egg at that place?”
We lost my mother in February 2005. The day following her passing, my brother and I sat with the funeral director and my brother looked at me with a panicked expression. “OH NO! No more of Shirl’s potato salad!” She made the best. I can’t even come close to her salad. The potatoes were always cooked to the perfect point of doneness and there was one mayonnaise that was the ONLY one to be used.
For today’s “new” families who don’t share a dinner table discussion, I really am sorry. In all honesty, I would give everything I own to have one more dinner with my family. I sure to miss my parents.
To this day, I pick up the phone to call her. Thank you for letting me share some of Shirl with you.
And Happy Mother’s Day to you all.
The William Henry Miller Inn
Bed and Breakfast Foodie