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Creating Your Children's Food Memories

So you're thinking about becoming a food writer. Did you:

A) Grow up on a farm, where Mama canned peaches sweet as the day is long, and where all the menfolk came in with stomachs growling for her dinnertime feast, set out on a long, rustic wooden table, of fried chicken, country ham, collards and pot likker, and biscuits, always biscuits, on the requisite sideboard, with of course several fruit pies in the pie safe;

B) Grow up in the Low country, where Mama sent you out every day at lunchtime on your dinghy to cast your net for fresh baby shrimp, or dig for oysters, which she of course cooked in a bucket of creek water;

C) Grow up in a home in which Mama was a terrifically terrible cook, producing all sorts of comically inedible suppers;

or D) Grow up in a perfectly normal, everyday house in which your mother cooked tasty but fairly ordinary food over which you had perfectly normal suppertime conversations with your family?

If D), despair now.

Clearly, you don't have the food memories to make a successful career. Will your children grow up similarly deprived?

Cheer up. Making food memories for yourself or your kids doesn't have to consist of terrible food or of lyrical, long-gone days (which your readers may suspect never fully existed). Making food memories is as simple as getting in the kitchen.

My mother is a great cook, but it isn't some amazing dish of hers that makes my earliest and best food memory. Instead, it's egg-salad sandwiches. I distinctly recall, at age 3, making lunch with my mother while my big sister was at school. I got time alone in the kitchen with her, and smashing the eggs with a wire pastry blender was my job.

That left me with two lifelong loves: egg salad, of course, but also any kind of kitchen creativity. I can't draw. I can carry a tune, but nobody begs me to join a choir. And some basic needlepoint pillows are about the extent of my craft skills. That's left cooking as my main creative outlet, and I'm grateful to my mother for that exposure.

But how many mothers or fathers pass along that gift today? And even if their kids join them in the kitchen, are they bonding over real food, or over a microwaved frozen dinner? What kind of a heritage is that?

For along with skills, my mother passed along my heritage, sharing old traditions and creating new ones. During the winter, she would make splurge suppers of eierkuchen, a German, crepe-like, eggy pancake that she learned in her mother's kitchen. In spring, she'd throw caution to the winds and celebrate the strawberry harvest with suppers of strawberry shortcakes, with biscuit bases and pillows of whipped cream. (We'd make it a balanced meal with a side of bacon.) Those are traditions both my sister and I carry on.

We had other traditions and treats that were special to us, but may not be to anyone in today's world. Going out to eat was a special treat when I was little. My son, on the other hand, sometimes goes out so much that he requests staying home for supper, as if that's the real treat. And sometimes when we go out, he gets Cokes. For me, they were a really big deal: We got them only when my father would buy 7-Ups for us to take on vacations in the camper.

That's why it's even more important to make special memories at home. Baking is one of the best ways to do this; while your family may fondly remember your beef stroganoff, as I do my mother's, the memories that will stick come from being up to your elbows in dough, with flour clouds drifting by.

So develop a light biscuit hand to pass along, or learn how to make a mean pie crust. Buy some cookie cutters and take a shot at a gingerbread house, or just some gingerbread men. It's easier than you think, and the rewards are sweet.

Cook's notes: Eierkuchen (say "eye-er-kook-en") makes a great brunch dish as well as a splurge supper. We always ate them with a thin blackberry sauce (to which I have added thyme; you can leave it out, or use basil instead). Any fruit sauce would work, or try spreading them with a thin layer of all-fruit jam. We passed sour cream and applesauce on the side. Cream biscuits aren't traditional Southern ones, but they're exceptionally easy and a good first biscuit to master. Turn them into shortcakes by adding 3 tablespoons of sugar to the dry ingredients and cutting them into 3-inch rounds. Serve them split and topped with lightly sugared strawberries and freshly whipped cream. Any heavy or whipping cream will work (the difference is in the amount of butterfat in each), but pasteurized, not ultra-pasteurized, cream is worth seeking out (look for Maple View Farm's pasteurized cream). I call for coarse salt in the biscuits; it's the salt I prefer for all cooking and baking. If all you have is table salt, use about one-third less than the coarse salt called for. EndBlock<

Eierkuchen with Blackberry-Thyme Sauce
Makes about 8 thin 10-inch pancakes

6 large eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons milk (skim or whole are both fine)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Vegetable shortening or canola oil as needed

In a large bowl, beat eggs until quite frothy, preferably with an electric mixer. Beat in flour, milk and sugar on high speed.

Heat a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat. Lightly grease the pan with just enough shortening to film it (even well-seasoned pans need greasing).

Pour in just enough batter to coat the skillet--from 1/4 to 1/2 cup batter. Cook until bottom is crisp and golden, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Flip with a wide spatula and cook 30 seconds to 1 minute more. Repeat with remaining batter; for each pancake, you must lightly grease the pan to achieve crisp, lacy edges.

Serve immediately with sauce.

Blackberry-Thyme Sauce
Makes 3 cups

3 cups blackberries, divided (thawed frozen ones are fine)
2 teaspoons minced thyme leaves
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together 1 cup blackberries and thyme leaves, sugar and water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer mixture for 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice and remaining 2 cups berries. Serve immediately, or store, covered, in refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Cream Biscuits
Makes 18 2-inch biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour, preferably bleached
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, or more as needed
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Pour in cream and stir it in gently with a rubber spatula until dry ingredients are just moistened.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and press it together with your hands, slowly adding more cream if needed to get dough to hold together. Roll or pat dough into a circle 3/4-inch thick. Cut into 2-inch rounds with a floured biscuit cutter or drinking glass; pull the cutter straight up each time--twisting it will make the biscuits rise lopsided. Place each biscuit slightly separated on a parchment paper-lined or lightly greased baking sheet.

Bake biscuits for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve immediately, or transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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