Sunday, May 9, 2010

What your mother tells you: Baked Stuffed Peppers

"What your mother tells you now
In time you will need to know."

Mitsuye Yamudan

In cooking, and indeed in most of life, this has proven true time and time again. Today, in honor of Mothers' Day, I share a cooking mishap that occurred because I didn't listen to what my mama told me long ago in a small kitchen in Kansas.

When I was about 8 or 9, I wanted to try a recipe that I had found that contained orange chips. Orange was my favorite flavor in those days so I thought orange cookie bars would be fantastic. I begged my mother to purchase the ingredients and let me try to bake them myself. Against her better judgement, my mother did buy the orange baking chips and then she set me free in the kitchen. It didn't turn out so well. The highly anticipated orange cookie bars were hard and flat and tasteless. "What did you do?" my mother asked, not unkindly. "I just started at the top and mixed everything together" said I. My mother, with her maternal knower, sensed a teachable moment. Her directive, "You have to read the recipe all the way through before you start. Then you have to follow it."
What she told me then, I still need to know.

My mother knows what Alice Randall is quoted as saying, "Mother-love is not inevitable. The good mother is a great artist ever creating beauty out of chaos." She was and is a master at surveying chaos and offering kind words of redirection. Not just in the kitchen, but in the living room, in the bedroom while rubbing my back at night, while traveling in the car, and years later over the phone when I would call to check in.

So, why didn't I heed her early cooking advice when I was making stuffed green peppers? Probably the most common reason we sometimes don't listen to our elders. I thought it didn't really matter in this particular situation. The result? Disastrous Stuffed Green Peppers. I didn't parboil them as the recipe said (what was I thinking?) and I altered the stuffing ingredients so much that it just didn't work. I do make small alterations to recipes and my mother's advice from time to time but true wisdom lies, I believe, in knowing when it is important to stay the course and when it is okay to take a small step off the path. And always, always, be willing to learn.

My own children will learn cooking lessons and life lessons as they travel through life. As a mother, I try to prevent chaos sometimes by dispensing advice before a teachable moment arises. I wish it was enough for them to learn from my mistakes but they must make their own at times and I must stand by them, as my mama did me, and gentle them back on the path. And when a day goes by when there isn't chaos, mothers everywhere raise their eyes to the heavens and thank the Lord!

Here is the recipe for baked green peppers. I suggest you follow it more closely than I did!

4 large green peppers
1/2 pound of hamburger
1 cup fresh or canned corn or lima beans
1/2 cup crushed soda crackers
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

Cut the tops off peppers and hollow them. Parboil for 5 minutes and allow to cool. Brown meat slightly and mix meat, corn or lima beans and seasoning. Fill peppers and top with cracker crumbs. Arrange in a greased baking dish. Bake at 375 for 25 minutes.

From the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950)

Happy Mothers' Day

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