Readers recall stories of relatives' food tales
They are yiayias, brusias, memis, grandmas and moms. They wielded saucepans, cast-iron Dutch ovens, spoons and baking sheets. They fed a family and nourished generations of memories.
The mothers and grandmothers featured below in honor of Mother’s Day on Sunday come from you, our readers. We’re grateful you shared your memories with us.
Anastasia Mantopoulos, Marianne G. Bellemare’s Yiayia
With “warm, soft hands” and a flowered cotton apron, Yiayia, who lived to be 107, whipped up Greek delicacies like kwoulourakia and spanakopita. As Bellemare writes, “Speaking in half-Greek, half-English, she said, ‘Honey, these cookies are good. Who taught you how to make them.’ I responded, ‘You did, Yiayia.’ She paused and said, ‘Yes, I remember. You are like your mother. You like to cook and bake. And you have also been a good mother. It’s good to cook. It keeps the family close to you.’ ”
Bellemare’s favorite dish from her Yiayia was the one featured here, Spanakopita. Bellemare says this recipe is recreated from her memories of “the olive oil sizzling” and the “smell of fresh spinach and variety of cheeses baking in the oven.”
Julie Marionneaux, Terry Lively Reynolds’ Grandma
One of six children, Reynolds’ family lived at her grandmother’s house in the 1940s, with her Grandma cooking “to feed our small army.”
“It seems just about every morning she made hot cakes,” Reynolds writes. “Grandma would whistle a tune all while she flipped those hot cakes. One of us youngsters would shout out, ‘Grandma, make me a turtle.’ Smiling and still whistling, she’d pour the batter in her hot black iron skillet.” She’d make a shell, then a head and feet, and also took requests for other animal-shaped cakes.
“We were all so pleased to eat our own special hot cake,” Reynolds writes.
Lillian Robertson, Pam Soileau’s Mama
Soileau admits that, as a young newlywed, her cooking repertoire was … limited. But she calls her mother “a magician in the kitchen.” With four kids and a tight food budget, Soileau writes that Mama worked wonders, like this Gourmet Meatloaf à la Lillian, a recipe that starts with a boiled brick of processed canned luncheon meat.
“My own attempt at replicating Mama’s meatloaf was a disaster and a near tragedy,” Soileau writes. “I returned from running an errand to find the water totally boiled out of the pot. Charred meat was fused, concrete-like, in the bottom of my lovely stainless steel saucepot … . Our apartment was filled with smoke. The entire block of St. Louis Street smelled like burnt pig innards.”
As she scrubbed the pot, she vowed to learn to cook. And she did. But not canned-meat meatloaf.
Olivia Elkins Dunn, Dana Dunn Territo’s MeMi, and Adair Dunn, Territo’s Mom
One of MeMi’s specialites, Territo says, was Prune Cake, which Territo’s mother makes for her birthday every year. She has MeMi’s original, hand-written recipe for the cake.
“Though some heads turn unfavorably when first thinking about a ‘prune’ cake, it is a delicious sheet cake,” she writes.
Territo’s Mom was also an “accomplished” cook, who taught her children that “food is love … and every dish had her heart in it.”
Linda Bonaventure Mack, Kimberly Mack Brocato’s Mom
Brocato started cooking with her Mom, “a fabulous cook,” as a teenager.
“Everyone who knew her, knew a good cook. I was so blessed and fortunate to have her to teach me all she knew about cooking,” Brocato writes.
Mom was diagnosed with renal cell cancer in 1997 and died in 2003, but not before she was on a Food network show and wrote a cookbook, “Cooking With My Meme.”
“I now cook all holiday meals as she would for my family,” Brocato writes. “I am hoping to pass this legacy on to my children, Lindsey and Sam Brocato, and to my niece, Katie Mack.”
Lola Naugher, Sue Jamieson’s Mother
When Jamieson’s mother was first married in the 1930s, she splurged and bought a sirloin steak. She started cooking it at 4 p.m. for a 6 p.m. dinner.
Fortunately, Mother improved. “Her chicken and dumplings were famous,” Jamieson writes. “They were delicious and very rich in flavor to begin with, but her little secret was to add just a bit of yellow food coloring and everyone thought, ‘Lola must have used a whole pound of butter!’ ”
One of her father’s friends also remarked that he could eat a whole shoe box of Mother’s dressing. At a later dinner party, she complied, delivering a foil-lined shoe box full of dressing.
“Lola was an incredible cook, but even more an incredible Mother,” Jamieson writes. “How very blessed I was!”
Marcelle Elise Lejeune, Marie Elise Meador’s great-grandmother, Maw Maw
Maw Maw, as soon as Meador stepped in the house, would yell, “Come in, Butter Bean, if your nose is clean!” Then she would proceed to feed all and sundry: crawfish bisque, Coca-Cola cake, green beans, lemon icebox pie.
“Everything she made was the epitome of good Cajun cooking,” Meador wrote. Her pralines, especially, symbolized the love she put into her dishes.
“Standing next to my great-grandmother and watching her stir the pot of pralines ever so slowly only emphasized the fact that good food really is a labor of love,” Meador wrote. “Each time she made a piece of food it was as if a part of her heart went with it.”
Frances Hudanski, Sharon Callahan’s Busia
In a kitchen “smaller than my utility room,” Callahan’s Busia, Polish for grandmother, turned out homemade soups, pies and meals, including traditional Polish Punzka, a ball of fried sweetened yeast dough.
“Every so often, she would slice a few potatoes in the pot, to clarify the grease,” Callahan writes. “As soon as they were drained and sprinkled with coarse salt, they were ours! And many a finger and tongue were burned in our eagerness to taste our treat. I’m 66 now, and have never had a french fry as good as those our Busia made.”
Faye Marcello, Tara Messenger’s Momma
Messenger just couldn’t get Momma’s recipes right on her own. For one special dinner, Messenger asked her mother to come cook it for her. She did, and it was a hit, but Messenger couldn’t replicate the feat.
After Momma’s husband died, and with dementia setting in, she moved in with Messenger and her family. One Easter, Messenger’s son asked for Momma’s sesame chicken.
Messenger and her daughter-in-law, Caroline, helped Momma in the kitchen, and, before it was over with, the whole family gathered around and watched her cook.
“My mother died in November, and she won’t be here for Easter, but her sesame chicken will be,” Messenger writes. “I know she’ll be very happy to see her recipe continue to another generation.”
Sandra Morris, Tanya Stuart’s Mom
Morris “loved people and loved food,” Stuart wrote.
“My dad, brothers and sister and I were blessed on a daily basis,” she writes. “A daily breakfast of fried eggs, bacon and toast sent us off to school and work.”
Mom believed in good, Christian fun, and hosted taffy-pull parties, barbecues and showers.
“She was joyful in the kitchen. … For years, she volunteered to cook for the church’s teenage camp feeding 100 people three meals a week. Through her food, she gave us each the gift of making us feel special and valued.”
Amy Henagan McCurnin, Pat Snow’s Mom
Mom was “one of the steel magnolias of the early 20th century.”
When her father was laid off from Standard Oil, Mom took their savings of $1,500 and built a two-bedroom home.
“She said, ‘We could always get food to eat,’ ” Snow writes.
Helen Bouy Brewerton, Dolores Brewerton Gremillion’s Mother
Mother baked “marvelous” cakes, and was known for her angel food cake.
“There were always several angel food cakes on her dining room table waiting for someone to come by and take one home,” Gremillion writes.
Gremillion also says Mother made and sold up to 1,000 pounds of fruit cake for Christmas.
Mercedes Kleinpeter Horcasitas, Keith John Paul Horcasita’s Mom; Maria Rivas Pecorino, his mother-in-law, Maw Maw; and Maria Horcasitas, his wife
To Keith John Paul Horcasitas, Lenten meals weren’t much of a sacrifice. His mother made a quiche Lorraine with crabmeat and shrimp.
His mother-in-law, of Brazilian descent, provided them with Hispanic meals, like Apricot Chicken, that were healthier options for chicken dinners.
Wife Maria now continues the family’s culinary tradition with Pralines, which she called Prayer-Lines, as she asks the eater to say a prayer for something good before they chow down.
Rosella Vessier Gauthreaux, Erin Swenson’s Maw-Maw G
Maw-Maw G’s house in Ponchatoula was where Swenson came for country living. As a child, she picked strawberries, shelled pecans and tended gardens.
Maw-Maw G learned how to cook from her mother, Louise Ayraud Vessier, who owned a restaurant in Good Hope. She never wrote down her recipes, which left Swenson “devastated” after Maw-Maw G died in 2006.
“I knew many of her recipes by heart, because we made them together, but thought we would have that remaining legacy of her to carry on in the family,” Swenson writes. “I then realized how lucky I was to have been not just her granddaughter, but her student as well! I learned to make a roux in second grade; how many kids can say that?”