My mother, Evelyn Allen, was a great cook!
She always prepared wonderful meals that just seemed to appear without fail on the table every day. Because we were a traditional Atlantic Canada family, they were on the table as close to 5PM as possible. The meals were called supper not dinner. Dinner was the noon time meal. And yes, with very few exceptions, they were brought to, and eaten at, the table and not in front of a TV.
We were seldom asked what we would like for supper. In our house, the “menu” was not a discussion point. The decisions were hers and based primarily on what was in the fridge at the time. With very few exceptions, like a spaghetti night, the one thing you could count on was potatoes. Scalloped, boiled, mashed and on occasion French fried. Nine times out of ten, the dish contained potatoes and a vegetable. Fridays were fish days even if we weren’t Catholic.
What amazed me was that I could open the fridge and see not much of anything while my mother could open the fridge and see all kinds of leftovers and choices. In no time at all something was in a frying pan and a pot. I don’t think there was such a thing as stove fans back then. I can remember days with wonderful smells and days, especially fish days, when the house would stink to the “high heavens”.
The plates were never “plated” as they are in fancy restaurants. Salt and pepper shakers and butter plates were on the table. There was always a tray of chow-chow or mustard pickles. The items on the plate were never placed with a great deal of care from a presentation point of view. The cutlery did not always match. But none of that seemed to matter. Man was it good!
My mother was a cook not a chef. She also cooked by feel as much as recipe. As she got older and it occurred to us that we should capture her recipes we came to find out that much of what she did was by intuition. She had measuring cups but almost didn’t need them. There were no mis-en-place bowls prepared ahead of time to make sure she didn’t miss anything. That was a bit of a downfall when, in her late 80’s, she forgot to add sugar to her famous apple pie. Because most of what she made was so good, we forgave her for the occasional mistake.
While she cooked and baked great meals almost all of the time, my wife Mary loved her date squares. It was a joke that after my mother passed away, Mary would buy store-bought and market-made date squares, not because she liked them, but that she had to test them against the memory of my mothers date squares. And they never matched up!
It occurred to us that since she frequently talked about her “secret” recipes that she must have added the “Evie” magic to her date squares. After all she had a secret ingredient to her carrot cakes (splash of orange juice), and her apple pie (heavy on the nutmeg), why not something that made her date squares the squishy sweet flavor that no one ever seemed to match?
I can’t pass a plate of date squares without thinking of both my mother who made them and my wife who loved them. I suspect we all have a food item that gives us comfort and a smile.
My mothers date squares help to keep her memory alive and the memory of them only gets better as time goes by.