Updated: Dec 7, 2020
My mother was a cook's cook. She thoroughly enjoyed the process of mixing, slicing, pureeing, creating and tasting. Mommy always sought out the hard-to-find, the best quality, and the off-beat.
She used to make a cake that required cake flour. I remember going from supermarket to supermarket with her, hunting down cake flour (it's lighter than all-purpose flour). One day, the search for the holy grail paid off and we found it. I can not remember the name of the supermarket, but I do remember that we had looked for cake flour there before. Mommy bought several boxes of Swan's Down Cake Flour. She used it for that cake recipe, and nothing else.
I remember the day that her former student's boyfriend came by to visit our house. John saw the cake four on the counter and asked Mommy about it. John liked to cook certain Italian dishes, so he was naturally interested. Mommy told him the saga of finding the cake flour. "I'd never give up this this cake flour," said my mother. I'll never forget how John responded. He picked up a box of cake flour and put a $50 bill on the counter. My mother laughed and said, "Give me back my cake flour. I wouldn't sell it to you for anything!" John laughed and gave the cake flour back. Yes, yes, this is a true story. All this happened before she discovered that McCall's Cookbook had a section that showed you how to do things such as make cake flour out of all-purpose flour, or make buttermilk from regular milk.
I also remember Mommy talking about the glories of watermelon rind pickle. She grew up eating it in Virginia. Of course, her family made it. We never found it in the supermarkets of New York. Macy's Cellar changed all that. Mommy used to go there to find her gourmet delicacies. One Saturday we went there and lo and behold, there was watermelon rind pickle! My mother was excited -- until she picked up the small jar and saw that the price was $18!! And this was in the early 1980s. My mother was insulted. "I used to make this and I can do it again." You see where this is going.
We went to the Brooklyn Terminal Market. Mommy painstakingly tapped all the watermelons to find the right ones.
She wanted thick rinds. She bought two or three and encouraged us to eat them as quickly as possible. During hot New York summers, we were more than happy to help her out. We saved the rind, which Mommy stored in a container with water and alum. When there was enough rind, it was time to pickle it! I can still see the huge pot full of rind. And I can smell the cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and vinegar. It was a labor of love, but was it ever worth it! The end result was sublime. I can still see my father putting the pickles in the Waterford crystal bowl before guests arrived for our Christmas holiday party. I can see them sitting on the table not far from the Christmas ham, and the roasted goose that Daddy accompanied with smoked oyster dressing. The sweetness and warm spices of the pickled watermelon rind were a perfect complement to those meats and competed well with cranberry sauce. The bowl was empty by the end of the meal.
They were always a novelty and a showstopper!