Food for Thought

The old cookie sheet you can't throw away: Betty Crocker by mom

The old cookie sheet you can't throw away: Betty Crocker by mom

May is a month filled with food delights. The crawfish season is on, although sadly the oyster season has closed in Texas. But that’s OK because we’ll all be woofing down tons of Tex-Mex for Cinco de Mayo. And next month is also national hamburger and barbecue month. There’s an international pickles week in May and days that celebrate taffy, escargot and even grape popsicles.

It’s a month of food feasts.

And, of course, May 9 is Mother’s Day. That yearly Sunday when just about everyone takes mom to brunch at some swanky restaurant. A day the industry alternately refers to as Nobody Can Take Off and Make Sure and Have More Mimosas Day.

My mother passed away a long time ago so I won’t be taking her to brunch. I’ve written of mom’s cooking skills before, and joked that the only dish she ever taught me to make was tuna casserole with all canned ingredients. She was, certainly, not a chef.

She grew up, married, raised three girls and generally existed in that time in America before foodie was a noun, before anyone had heard of the Slow Food movement or locavores. There were no volumes of Julia Child in the kitchen, only a dog-eared Betty Crocker. Veggies were frozen or came in cans, as did the salmon, and garnish was bacon bits from a jar. Obviously, I came by my culinary bent later in life, from other influences.

Ah, but the woman could bake.

There were birthday cakes with delicately handcrafted roses, pies of all flavors for all occasions, hot from the oven pumpkin and apple, chilled chocolate from the fridge and cupcakes baked into ice cream cones. And there were her cookies.

For as long as I can remember every school bake sale consisted of her wonderful warm cookies. Chocolate chip was her forte, the original Toll House recipe of course, plus cinnamony snickerdoodles and powdered snowballs.

I still recall her pulling her little cookie sheet out of the oven and the amazing scent those fresh baked cookies sent wafting through the house.

She did share those cookie recipes with her daughters, although I was never much of a baker and never really used them. But, as with any dutiful mother, when I left home she sent me off into the world with a few of her kitchen utensils: An electric can opener (long consigned to the trash heap), a few wooden spoons, and that cookie sheet.

No cookies, plenty of memories

I really don’t remember ever baking cookies on it, but that little cookie sheet followed me around from Dallas to Houston, San Marcos, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Austin and back again to Houston. When I started really cooking I used it to roast red potatoes with rosemary and olive oil, broil red fish and toast bruschetta.

Next to my beloved Henckels chef knife and blackened grill pan it gets more of a kitchen workout than anything else at home. So much so that it no longer bears any markings but does sport some odd dents and discolorations that might be rust or might be remnants of long-ago burnt cookies. Maybe even something else, hard to tell.

A couple of years ago, flush with culinary skills and some cash, I went on a kitchen shopping spree and among the loot was a brand new and larger non-stick baking sheet. As I proudly displayed the goods to a friend I also showed her the ancient cookie sheet, scraped, discolored and beaten through decades of use.

It hardly looked fit to hold food and I had planned to toss it. But after explaining its provenance and history said friend looked me square in the eye and said, “You can’t get rid of that." 

She was right, of course. I don’t have many of my mother’s things but I do have that rag-tag cookie sheet. And today I still use it as the new one sits in the bottom of a cabinet, ignored and never used.

Just as food can connect us to our past and our emotions, sometimes a simple cookie sheet can do that and much more.

So come Mother’s Day I’ll pull out my old friend, which is likely as old as I am, and toast mom by toasting some up some Parmesan garlic bruschetta made with thick slices of Richard Cole’s artisan cheddar/jalapeno bread.

Here's an early Happy Mother’s Day mom. I love you.

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