Memories inspired by cooking utensil lead to legacy letter

It’s just a tin cup. The kind that prisoners used to bang against the bars of their jail cells in old movies. The kind the chuck wagon cook used to dish up campfire stew for the cowboys.

It’s exactly 8 ounces, with markings denoting ¼, ½, ¾ and 1 cup.

It is the most precious thing I have of my mother’s. A few years ago, I discovered it in her cupboard as I was putting away dishes. I could not believe she still had “the cup.” That cup brought back so many wonderful memories.

As the oldest child, I had some “me” time with my mother before my sisters were born. Once they came along, we all had to share my mother, but cooking time was, for all my childhood years, that time when my mother and I did something together by ourselves.

One of my first memories of the cup was measuring flour and sugar for Toll House cookies. My mother had me aerate the flour with a spoon before measuring and level it off with the flat side of a knife.

There’s something especially delicious about cookies you make yourself.

That same cup was used to measure more flour as we made homemade “tutlings” (tortellinis filled with chicken, mortadella and Parmesan). My mother expertly mixed the “spoya” (dough) and I helped her turn the crank to roll the pasta-making machine to create the long sheets of dough.

We placed the tutlings on brown paper bags to dry. I couldn’t wait to have them that night for supper, simmered in chicken broth with Parmesan cheese on the top. It was one of our family’s favorite meals.

And we used the cup to measure flour to make blueberry or apricot pie—two of my father’s favorites. My mother taught me how to roll that dough from the middle outward to form a perfect circle and to combine the fruit with some instant tapioca so the filling wouldn’t be too runny.

Serving a piece of pie with that perfectly golden crust to my father after dinner made me swell with pride. How great it felt to make something with your hands that nourished both heart and tummy.

As I got older and my mother went back to work, she agreed to let me plan and prepare our weekly dinners. I remember poring over her recipe box and cookbooks for long-forgotten dinner favorites we had as a family when I was very young. It gave me such pleasure.

I think I was in junior high school when it dawned on me that cooking is love. The art of selecting recipes, buying the ingredients, preparing and serving delights to my family was one big act of love—whether my mother was doing it or I was.

At 82 my mother is still sharing that love. In just the past few months she has made root vegetable soup, chicken piccata, crab cakes, meatloaf, oatmeal cookies and a host of other treats for herself and my father.

Last weekend, when my sister was in town visiting my mother, they made Bundt Pan Chicken together, a recipe I’d found on Facebook. They served it at a family reunion of cousins, uncles, aunts, siblings and grandkids. I dreamed of being there, of preparing food side by side in the kitchen and sharing the love and laughter with all our relatives.

During the visit that I spotted the tin cup in her cupboard, my mother told me to take it home to California with me. At the time I told her how the cup brought back such great memories but I am not sure if she knew why.

So I have written this legacy letter to my mother so she may know the special love of cooking she has bestowed on me and the gratitude I feel for those special times together with her.

You might want to consider a legacy letter to a loved one to share family history, celebrate a milestone or to impart values and goals.


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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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