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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Dad In the Kitchen – A Tribute… More or Less :-)

My dad with a jar of beet pickles he concocted when we lived in Tennessee.

When I was a kid, Daddy’s cooking always seemed a little like Russian roulette.  Sometimes you got something really good, sometimes you got something really awful; and there was usually nothing that was in between – certainly nothing ordinary.  He was a “fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants” cook, so he never, or seldom, had a recipe for what he made.  Sometimes he could remember how he made it, sort of; but other times he could not.  If it was really good we were usually pretty sorry about this.  If it was really awful we were glad. :-)  But, either way, it was always an adventure to eat what he made.

His green herb sauce was one of his all time successes.  It was excellent.  It was one of those things that, if he had had the money and desire, he probably could have marketed it.  It was delicious served with meat, and I’m sure it would have made an excellent creamy dressing mixed with mayonnaise and sour cream.  He did write down what he put in it, but not how much, and since he gleaned a lot of random things from the interesting garden we had that year, we’ve probably never had quite that same mixture since.

He has also made some very notable lime marmalade, some tasty “stir-fried” vegetables, quite good pickles, deep fried goodies of various types, and so forth.  He was famous (to us) for his seasoned salt, which he did manage to make write down, and make more than. :-)  His all time “interesting” dish, in my opinion, was probably his wild day lily soup.  It tasted pretty good, but it was just plain weird, especially if one of the ants he missed while cleaning the flowers ended up in your bowl!

Daddy’s shark stew, however, would have destroyed the reputation of any chef. ;-)  If I remember correctly, the shark actually started its culinary career in the form of baked steaks, which were less than popular. This was due to the weird taste which may have been mostly the shark; though I at that age I was also suspicious of the curious sauce he put on it.  In an effort to make it into something more palatable, my dad converted the leftovers into stew, which was even less popular!  In fact, it was so awful that even he didn’t want to finish it. That’s saying something since he’s enjoyed some pretty weird stuff in his time!  The stew was put in the freezer “for future reference” and it stayed there until it was later removed and buried under the roses! :-)

Another of his noted failures was the time he decided to make “bologna sandwich spread” with hot dogs instead of the pickled ring bologna it’s usually made with.  Well, hot dogs don’t have the flavor of ring bologna, as he discovered.  That sandwich spread pretty much tasted like mayonnaise and pickle relish and whatever else he put in it for seasoning. :-)

I have to give my dad credit, though.  He did teach me some things about cooking.  Mom always called on him to finish spicing the curry because he has a knack for that type of thing.  So, I learned to use herbs and spices in my cooking more from him than from Mom.   In fact, not long ago I managed to rescue a failure of my own in the line of a chicken and pasta dish by using some of the seasoning ideas he taught me.

Daddy has always been inclined to garnish dishes too, even dishes that Mom prepared.  His colorful additions to everything from salads to desserts were an inspiration.  Sometimes I remember thinking he’d gone too far, but after all, he had fun doing it.  And, we usually weren’t forced to eat the garnishments if we didn’t want to (as in the case of wild day lilies, though they are actually edible). [Photo: A salad my dad helped make and garnish with pickled beets or turnips and artichoke hearts.]

Some dads solve the problem of needing to cook by making a telephone call for delivery or take out.  But, Daddy wasn’t inclined to resort to “take out”, especially pizza delivery, since we had plenty of ingredients in the freezer, fridge, pantry and cupboards.  Sometimes we did go out to eat in an extremity, but I don’t remember ever having pizza delivered when I was growing up, unless it was at the instigation of a guest who was also paying. ;-)  It was not considered a good option on our budget, plus Daddy wasn’t much impressed with the quality of that type of pizza.  I suppose he figured he could make something more nourishing himself.   Maybe not tastier, but definitely more nourishing.  :-)

Before I was old enough to “man” the kitchen in an emergency, if Mom couldn’t cook, Daddy “came up with something”.  Usually, though, his cooking adventures were just that – adventures for the sheer fun of it!  He seemed to really enjoy just inventing something and then watching us eat it, whether we wanted to or not. :-)

This is another photo of the salad pictured above along with some absolutely delicious grilled chicken that he made. The chicken was marinated and it was superb.

In recent years Daddy has become very adept at grilling, but he hasn’t been so inclined to cook.  He has roasted coffee, made a few salads and refrigerator pickles, helped with the grunt work for our canning, and prepared a few sauces and dressings, but the larger than life items have fallen by the wayside.  The demands of running his own business, his interest in writing, and more recently his yard and gardening projects have overshadowed his occasional adventures in the kitchen.  We’ve probably missed out on some great things because of that, but we’ve lost some great family legends too.  You know…, the kind that begin, “Do you remember that awful ____________ that Daddy made…” :-)

Pickled beets and eggs that my dad and mom made together.  They were delicious! :-)


  1. Mary, I liked it when your dad would cook for the family. Sometimes he made a dish for a church dinner,too, and the people learned that it was usually very hot and spicy. They would ask me who made it before trying it!! A few of the men learned to like his hot dishes. He was always good at knowing what spices to put in foreign foods and that helped me a lot. I never could taste the individual spices in the food but he could and he know what they were. Life with him in the kitchen could be fun or unnerving!!
    One thing you forgot was the squid he brought home and I tried to fix it. He wasn't home to give me advice so it turned out like shoe leather!! There was no way we could swallow it, so I picked up the dish and took it out and threw it in t burning barrel. He doesn't bring many strange things home for me to cook any more:-))

    1. Mom, I need to write another whole article on things Daddy brought home. ;-) I can think of some that would make an interesting topic. hehe