Funny how moms can cook a million meals, but if you grew up in a traditional household, chances are it’s what dad cooked that seemed special. My dad loves popcorn and could always be counted on to make the six of us popcorn and a bowl of ice cream. (To this day, I like to eat the two together.) On the first “snow day” with heavy drifts, my dad also made us snow ice cream. The recipe? A big mixing bowl of snow to which he added sugar, vanilla, and milk (along with the cream from the top of the bottle). He also made fudge in the winter and tempered the chocolate in a snow bank.
My husband Chuck doesn’t remember his father ever cooking for him, and in fact, he learned how to fend for himself in the kitchen at an early age while his mom was at work. He does, however, have vivid memories of his maternal grandfather, Daddy Lee (Gore) making catfish stew in North Carolina.
He was mesmerized as Daddy Lee would build a fire and put a big cast iron cauldron on to boil. He would toss in gutted catfish –heads, bones and all — and then add whatever was growing in the garden at the time, including potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, okra, beans, and squash. He let the mixture cook for what seemed like forever to young Chuck. I actually tried to make catfish stew once for his birthday, but let’s face it – nothing tastes as good as a memory.
At our house, Chuck has been making our son Sam the “World’s Best” triple-grilled cheese since Sam was very small, and I suppose that will be his memory of his father’s culinary genius.
Curious about other families, I took a small survey and invited others to share their memories of dad in the kitchen.
“Growing up, the summer did not begin until my Dad got out the grill and cooked up some juicy cheeseburgers. The mouthwatering aromas would fill the warm air outside, beckoning my brother and me home from our neighbors. The smell itself could fill our bellies, but the actual meal was the most delicious beginning to summer.”
– Allie Trant
“I do most of the cooking at home, not because I have to, but because I enjoy the process. I love to eat and grew up in a home where my Dad cooked frequently. He had a recipe for fried salmon that even though I know all the ingredients, I can’t seem to duplicate it. No matter what you’re cooking, the cook has a great influence on the outcome. He also loved to smoke turkey breasts. He would dry rub and hickory smoke them, and I am a good griller today from watching him for all those years.”
– Paul Camp
“Roast beef, pot roast, grilled anything – Dad was the ‘Lawry’s’ commercial. ‘When I cook, I cook,’ he liked to say. He never did anything halfway. If he took on the cooking responsibility, it was always on Sunday, and you could rest assured everything would be fresh, from scratch, and delicious. Daddy’s meals were a daylong process from hour-long trips to the grocery store for the best ingredients to the arduous process to making sure everything was done strictly ‘by hand’.
I learned some of my most valuable cooking tips from my dad. ‘Always clean as you cook; take pride in the presentation as much as the preparation; fresh ingredients make for better tasting food; food should taste like food and spices should bring out the flavor of the food, not mask it; recipes are guides, don’t be afraid to experiment.’ My Dad would make it a father/daughter activity, and I came to cherish those moments with him.”
- Leigh Higginbotham Butler
Taco Night: “We didn’t and still don’t know, if any self-respecting ‘Hispanic’ or ‘Latino’ individual would consider what ended up on our plates ‘tacos’, but Taco Night was already an establishment so, that was that. All my father had to do was assemble a pile of seasoned ground beef, some lettuce, tomatoes, and shamelessly ‘American-esque’ Kraft shredded cheese, and let his ravenous, very pale family go crazy with it. Or, uhh… pardon me, LOCO.”
– Sean Vanderbradt
Happy Father’s Day every day. Let me know your memories and special recipes of dad cooking by emailing me at email@example.com.