Congratulations to Angela Y from San Diego, CA, the winner of our Sandy in France Sweepstakes.
Some people become good cooks because their moms were bad cooks. My case was the opposite.
My mom was a really good cook, and since I took good food for granted, I wasn’t motivated to try to cook it myself.
It was only when I stumbled into a food career that I began to take cooking seriously. So I can’t say I learned from my mom, while attached to her apron strings.
But one thing my mom taught me – if only by the food she made – was what good food should taste like. And that palate – the ability to taste and to correct seasonings – was learned at the dinner table, eating her food.
Growing up in modest means in Hawaii, mom watched her tiny grocery budget. But she was always trying new recipes and cooking techniques, perusing magazines or swapping recipes with friends. She attended free cooking classes when she could, learning to prepare meals from other countries beyond the cooking she learned from her mother, who emigrated from Japan to Hawaii, early in the 1900s.
Unlike other Japanese-Americans of her generation who only prepared Japanese food or local Hawaiian fare, mom cooked well beyond the typical culinary boundaries. As a creative cook, she was always experimenting, making up her own recipes.
My mom passed away on Friday at the age of 93. In my family, stories of her culinary exploits are legend.
Some are funny: How once she made a spectacular pie for the county fair, only to discover that what she thought was sugar, really was salt.
Some are spirited: How, having worked at a small candy factory, against all odds, she was able to make hand-dipped chocolate macadamia nuts at home – a feat her boss said was impossible without air conditioning and proper equipment. Undaunted, she had a friend weld metal dipping spoons like they used at work, hand-cracked and roasted the macadamia nuts herself, and made her candy early in the morning, when it was still dark, with all the windows and doors open to chill down the house. The results, packed in candy boxes, were so professional, every lucky recipient assumed the sweets had been purchased.
Some are amazing: How her Japanese New Year feasts were renowned, requiring days of prep to cook multiple dishes, including several kinds of sushi. She continued to cook these celebratory meals into her 70s.
If she had been 20 years younger, mom would have been an active contributor to Special Fork, creating new recipes for us. In memory of my mom, Kiyome Matsukawa, here are some Special Fork recipes she inspired:
- Avocado Sherbet – this was her own creation and she was able to remember the proportions, giving me the recipe orally, just last year.
- Mom’s Portuguese Turkey Stuffing – her adaptation of a Portuguese stuffing recipe that was our family’s Thanksgiving tradition. It was so loved, she’d make this for special occasions when it wasn’t Thanksgiving, packing the stuffing in a loaf pan to bake. Colorful with pimentos and ripe olives, it looks like fruitcake when sliced. She air-freighted some to my sister and me when we went to university on another island.
- How to cut a pineapple – a technique I learned from my mom; it gives you the best yield of fruit.
- Okonomiyaki, Japanese pancakes – mom learned to make the pancakes from a Japanese friend; then came up with her own Hawaiian variation.
- Okinawa Doughnuts – easy drop doughnuts we made in Hawaii for unexpected company.
- Kay’s Koko – a Japanese pickle recipe my mom created and gave to my aunt, who passed it on to me when I was in Hawaii two years ago.
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