When I started thinking about the food that reminded me most of my mom, I was too embarrassed to admit that it came from a roll of Pillsbury biscuit dough. So I asked my brother and sister to answer the question instead. Sorry, Mom: They had the same reply.
We all have fond memories of watching our mom turn the biscuits into fried doughnuts, smothered in vanilla or chocolate icing. My first memories of those doughnuts were the three of us sitting at our miniature table in the kitchen waiting for Mom to finish whisking the powdered sugar and milk frosting. It was during the late 1960s when we lived in a small rental home outside Barksdale Air Force Base in Los Angeles. My dad was in Vietnam and my British-born mom had no family on this side of the pond. She spent a year of long, hot days and nights wrangling three children under the age of 5 on her own. As we got older, we learned to appreciate her perfect Yorkshire pudding, her delicate pastry dough and her fluffy mashed potatoes.
But it's the silly doughnuts that brought us all back to our childhood and put smiles to our faces.
For Mother's Day, we asked some of our Taster's Choice panelists the question: What foods remind you of your moms? The responses ranged from entertaining to endearing.
Jeff Jensen, the public information officer for the city of Treasure Island, has a great sense of humor, which he obviously developed early in his childhood.
"It's not a particular food or dish that reminds me of my mom," he said. "It's the temperature of the meal. For my brother Dave and I, growing up with Mom's home-cooked meals meant burned or frozen. It was our running joke. There were probably only a few dozen times, not that many, really, when the potatoes in the pot came out char-boiled or the frozen carrots made a clanking noise when they hit the plate, but when they did, we'd cry out in unison, 'Burned or frozen!' Always a big laugh."
Registered dietitian Nan Jensen weighed in on her mom Polly's meals: "I recall many wonderful things about my mom's cooking as I was growing up. My mom was known by many to be an excellent cook. Thanksgiving was always a deliciously special time at our house — mountains of sweet potatoes with fluffy marshmallows, buttery mashed potatoes topped with homemade turkey gravy, squash and green bean casseroles would fill the table. The flaky tender pie crust of each of the pies would melt in your mouth. The filling of the pumpkin pie was silky and smooth, the pecan pie buttery and nutty and the apple pie was loaded with tender chunks of apples laced with cinnamon and nutmeg. Mom is no longer able to prepare our Thanksgiving meal or bake those delicious pies, but the special memories live on."
Bob Devin Jones, actor, director and artistic director of Studio@620 in St. Petersburg, still prepares the pecan and sweet potato pies his mother, the late Ola Mae Jones, used to make.
"They always remind me of my mother's smile and her generous laugh," Jones said. His mother used to bake the pies for every major holiday. "The brilliance of her pecan pies is that they were spiced with both cinnamon and nutmeg. The milk my mother used in the sweet potato pies was Carnation evaporated, which gave the pie a Louisiana silkiness that was addictive."
Born and raised in Shreveport, La., Jones said, "All of my mother's cooking had that Southern family reunion authority that stated your mouth is about to be reunited with a taste that feels like home.
"I felt that way about my mother's hot water corn bread as well," he said.
Janet Keeler, assistant professor of journalism at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, has vivid memories of her mom, Fran Krietemeyer, enjoying a sweet indulgence every time she unpacked groceries.
Keeler recalled: "The brimming paper bags were lugged into the house two by two, or more if my brother was carrying. Everything was dutifully stowed, expect for the ice cream. We watched as she grabbed a spoon, popped the carton top (or maybe unfolded the cardboard hatch from the square), and ran it around the edges — a shallow groove of heaven."
Her mother enjoyed the perfectly melted top of the ice cream brick that formed between the time it left the store and when it was placed back in the freezer. "This is a bad habit," she remembers her mom saying.
"Mom is 90 this summer, and she still likes that softened ice cream edge, no matter the flavor. Me too," Keeler said.
Miriam Park, mom to taster Mary Jane Park, focused more on economy and nutrition when providing meals for her husband and four children. She bought peanut butter in bulk and canned her own tomatoes, green beans, vegetable soups and pickles from her own garden. She made jellies and preserves and always put extra peaches or berries in the freezer. Mary Jane Park grew up in what she described as "the early era of convenience foods." She ate canned fruit cocktail, Jell-O and puddings for dessert.
She says: "Mama usually baked a box-mix cake on Saturdays, although she made her own icing. She had an artist's sensibilities and eventually took cake-decorating classes, creating leaves, flowers and garlands with the best of them."
Her favorite homemade treat was the ambrosia salad her mom made at Thanksgiving and Christmas "with fresh orange slices, canned pineapple, maraschino cherries and fresh coconut." She described how her mother put her own special touch on the Southern holiday staple.
"To get to the delicious coconut flesh, she pounded nails into the 'eyes' and drained the coconut water, saving it for later use. Out came the hammer, and she split open the hairy orb, then peeled off the husk with a sharp knife," she said. "Mama scraped many knuckles on the box grater she used to shred the coconut meat. That heavenly ambrosia was the treat of all holiday treats."