By Carolyn Takach
Wondering what to fix for supper on hot summer days always brings back memories of my mother. Her creativity and skill with a minimum amount of kitchen tools, mostly a paring knife and a potato peeler, were impressive.
There was a different meal, made from scratch, every day and it was prepared and served as if for royalty or a special occasion.
All of the work was done by hand, and it took many hours of preparation. I liked watching Mama’s nimble fingers compose a work of art.
I am referring to the 1940s and 1950s, before TV, fancy blenders, slicers or freezers. Pictures in magazines were black and white, not today’s colorful glossy pages that make food look delectable.
My mother was the first child of six in her family to graduate from East High School. She did not study art, or go to cooking school. Her only training, if you could call it that, was working in the doctor’s dining room at St. Louise de Marillac Hospital, now Sisters of Charity Hospital.
She boarded there in order to arise early and be on time, without depending on public transportation, to report for duty serving breakfast to the residents and doctors.
My favorite hot day suppers were Mama’s cold plates. They consisted of lettuce, tomato, cottage cheese, deviled eggs and one or two salads of either tuna, potato or macaroni and fresh fruit.
This was not served family style where you passed a bowl and took what you wanted. Oh, no. Mama prepared these plates in advance, so each one was the same, and each one had some of everything on it.
A scoop of tuna salad here, next to deviled eggs, balanced by a scoop of potato or macaroni salad there and tomato wedges. Other times a tomato was scooped out and filled with cottage cheese or tuna salad.
Amidst all of these would be cold, crunchy radishes in the shape of rosettes and tulips. A long radish would be on its side with many half cuts so that it opened like an accordion. Cucumber slices with “ruffled” edges and a few green pepper rings joined the radishes.
Everything was garnished or sprinkled with something; always a little extra touch. A sprinkle of paprika on the deviled eggs, sliced olives on the salad de jour, snips of chive from the garden on the cottage cheese.
The plate was arranged in a way that it was balanced with colors, textures and shapes and it looked as pretty as a picture and we all devoured it.
For dessert there would be a fresh fruit cup – nothing from a can. A family favorite was cantaloupe and strawberries served in a dessert glass. The melon was diced in very small, bite-sized pieces, as were the berries. No clunky chunks to stretch your jaw.
I don’t recall eating a salad as we know it today. We ate the same ingredients, but they were not tumbled in a bowl. A big lettuce leaf or shredded lettuce would be on a flat salad plate. A tomato was cut in eighths but still connected at the base and opened just enough so it looked like a flower not quite in full bloom. A scoop of cottage cheese on lettuce would have slices of fresh peaches or melon arranged around it to look like a pinwheel, or a flower.
We ate every bit of these creations never even realizing how nutritionally good they were.
Now that the dog days of summer are here, I am planning to fix a cold plate ala Mama.