— Life —

STIRRING UP MEMORIES

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Standing in my kitchen with mixing bowls, measuring spoons, my Black and Decker hand mixer, springform pan, and ingredients spread out over the counter, I’m ready. Ready to make one of my favorite holiday desserts. Pumpkin tiramisu. 

So rich and frothy. So beautiful when I unlock the springform pan and place the pumpkin tiramisu on my plate. So elegant looking when I scatter crushed amaretti cookies on top. And best of all. So simple. My kind of dessert!

Then it hits me. The tall sea green glass mixing bowl. My mother’s. One of her wedding gifts in 1951. That bowl is 70 years old. The bent and misshaped metal measuring spoons, fanning out from the ring holding them all together at the top of each spoon. My mother’s. Another wedding gift? I don’t know. But old. I prefer to think of them as vintage. The springform pan. Yes. Also my mother’s. I love running my fingers over the dimples in the base of the pan. I can’t resist the joy of caressing those dimples before filling the pan. Why? Maybe it’s my way of letting the memory of my mother spring to life.

The pumpkin pie spice. My mother’s glass jar of McCormick’s Pumpkin Pie Spice with its faded seafoam green cap matching the color of the label. I turn the jar over. At the bottom of the label below the list of ingredients I read “69c.”

I start doing mental math. Just how old is this pumpkin pie spice? I’m guessing my mom bought this jar when we lived in Baltimore, Maryland. Exotic aromas wafted from the old McCormick and Company spice mill on the edge of Baltimore’s inner harbor. Inhaling the sweet smells of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves transported me to faraway countries. A salute to the spice trade and strange plants harvested in distant lands for shipment across deserts and oceans along the spice route. 

LEE PETERSON BAKER

My mental math calculation complete, I guestimate these spices are at least 50 years old. If my mom bought her jar in 1971 when I was in high school, then, yes, it’s 50 years old. Her spices were among my inheritance when she died of pancreatic cancer in 2000. 

Holding a vintage glass jar of McCormick and Company spice – the ones with those faded seafoam green caps – is almost as fine a moment as being in my mom’s kitchen. Standing beside my mother at her kitchen counter with a pale blue apron tied around her waist, and learning how to roll out a pie crust, how to crimp the edges of a pie crust, how to fold a pie filling into beaten egg whites without breaking down their stiff peaks. Happy memories.

My pumpkin tiramisu begged me to fortify it with fresh spices. Convinced I could break with tradition and treat my dinner guests to a tastier dessert, I broke down and bought myself a short plastic jar of fresh pumpkin pie spice. $4.24. 

After sliding my pumpkin tiramisu into the refrigerator to set, I put away my ingredients. Sugar on the shelf next to the flour, rum in the liquor cabinet, whipping cream in the frig. The old glass jar and the new plastic jar of pumpkin pie spice back into my spice cabinet. Two generations. Almost like mother and daughter.

Did my pumpkin tiramisu taste better? Did those sweet flavors of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg surge with vitality amid the ladyfingers doused in dark rum? Maybe.

My dinner guests oohed and ahhed. But I missed the spice of my mother’s memory.


10 Comments

  • Reply Beckye Estill January 1, 2022 at 7:19 am

    Lee, what a precious treasure of memories you have with your mom! How wonderful to share those whenever you share your love with others through cooking for them. The blessing your mom gave you is carried on through you. Like mother, like daughter. Doubly blessed, and creating a new treasure trove of sweet memories!

    I am creating sweet memories with my elderly mom who is living with us. Although I wouldn’t call her elderly in her presence, and she is anything but helpless or decrepit! Out of her way! She’s making a gourmet meal and she has to do it her way for it to be right. Still headstrong at almost 88! I will inherit her recipes and generosity, Lord willing!

    I’m touched by the fearless way you served your son. I can’t wait to read your book and share it with others.

    I’m so glad Brenda shared your blog with us! Thank you for opening your heart and life with us. I’m encouraged to enjoy and appreciate the treasure I have in and with my mom while I have her. God bless you!

    • Reply Lee Baker January 1, 2022 at 12:07 pm

      Dear Beckye, Your mom is so fortunate to have you as her daughter. My mother passed away from pancreatic cancer at age 70. Much too young. I love picturing your mom in your kitchen… stirring, chopping, sauteing, and preparing a feast for your family. Like you and your mother, I love to cook. I find it equally creative as writing. To place a meal, made with and inspired by love, on a table for dear friends and family is a gift. Just as it is a gift to write a paragraph, an email, a chapter, a poem, this blog response. Creative expression is a way of building connections, speaking truths from the heart, and reaching out to people we love as well as to strangers. In all honesty, my days with my mother weren’t always easy. She could be judgemental and her comments were devastating and hurtful. After her death, I had to dig deep and explore my feelings of conflict. Over time, I have come to realize my mother’s own childhood was fraught with challenges. In response, she built an emotional wall around herself to avoid pain and hurt. She didn’t intend to hurt me; she was doing the best she could. Understanding her vulnerabilities helped me resolve my feelings of anger toward her. She did the best she could. And, I’m now doing the same. I guess we all are. I’m sure my sons do and will wrestle with conflicted emotions about their relationship with me. My hope is that in the end, they will understand I have been doing the best I can do as their mom. Happy 2022 to you, Beckye

  • Reply Lynn January 1, 2022 at 8:54 am

    What a lovely tribute to you mom! I can feel the love in your words and in your sentimentality with her things. The two of you were very blessed to have loved each other so much.
    I enjoyed your writing style too and am happy to find a new blog. Best of luck!

    • Reply Lee Peterson Baker January 1, 2022 at 12:55 pm

      Dear Lynn, Thank you for your kind words. You are inspiring me to continue writing and finish my book with my son. Writing, like any creative expression, can be a source of vulnerability. It can feel scary to put your art form out there for the world to see – and perhaps judge! As you may read in my response to Beckye, my relationship with my mother wasn’t perfect. She could throw out some zinger comments that pierced my heart. Some haunt me to this day. At the same time, she was a wonderful mother. Like my mother, I am an only child. And, also like my mom, our family moved a ton. My mother understood what it was like to be the new kid in town. She would do little things to make my day brighter when I didn’t have any friends or siblings to play with after school. Among my favorite memories are the treasure hunts she would have waiting for me after school. One clue would lead me to the next. I’d find the next clue in the dishwasher, the living room sofa, my dresser drawer, the washing machine. Eventually, I’d discover an after-school treat hiding behind the potted ficus tree in our den. Lynn, you are very perceptive to understand that my mother and I were lucky to love one another. Like many mother-daughter relationships, my mom could drive me crazy too. In spite of her shortcomings, my mom taught me how to be a good mother. I credit her for the ways I am a positive influence in my sons’ lives. Lynn, I plan to post more blogs on Brenda’s website. So, stay tuned!

  • Reply Csr January 1, 2022 at 10:32 am

    ❤️ loved your piece! I’m a Baltimore girl and remember McCormick’s. Although I moved south over 50 years ago, I still buy the McCormick’s vanilla extract when I can find it.

    • Reply Lee Peterson Baker January 1, 2022 at 1:51 pm

      Hi CSR – What fun to meet another Baltimore girl. As I mentioned in a previous comment to Lynn, our family moved many times. My father’s career took us to many new cities and countries. While all that moving, I consider Baltimore home. It’s where I lived the longest – for 5 years in 8th – 12 grade. Do you remember The Morgue? I considered myself so cool, so “in” to sip a Coke and be seen at The Morgue! I returned to Baltimore several years ago for a high school reunion and discovered this old drugstore/soda fountain has been transformed into an upscale restaurant. I love knowing you have McCormick vanilla extract in your spice cabinet. I love my McCormick spices!!! Who cares how old they may be! Maybe we should start an “I Love McCormick Spices” Facebook page!?!?! Ha-Ha!

  • Reply LA CONTESSA January 1, 2022 at 10:57 am

    MY COUSIN was in the accounting office for McCORMICK SPICES!
    I have a spice from ITALY that is old cannot be found in my STATE of CALIFORNIA.I used it last night on the salmon cream pasta sauce!I think those spices last FOREVER!
    My guess is you will toss the plastic container before you use up your MOTHERS glass one!
    MEMORIES are a PURE JOY!
    HAPPY HAPPY NEW YEAR!
    XXX

    • Reply Lee Peterson Baker January 1, 2022 at 2:11 pm

      Dear La Contessa – This is amazing! I consider your cousin to be VERY COOL having worked at McCormick Spice. And I consider myself pretty cool for knowing someone whose cousin worked at McCormick! Your salmon cream pasta sauce sounds divine. I don’t know what’s for dinner at our house tonight, but it needs to be on the lighter side. Last night, we hosted a small raclette dinner gathering in front of the living room fire. Rich melted raclette cheese smothering red potatoes topped with cocktail onions and gherkins. We also feasted on raclette over garlic-sauteed shrimp, andouille sausage, prosciutto, and coppa. Such a fun New Year’s Eve tradition. And perfect for a cold, subzero, winter night. Following dinner, we lit a bonfire in the snowy back woods and had our own version of the Times Square ball drop. Every year, I hoist a foil-wrapped soccer ball up to the high limb of a pine tree. Amid a rousing count-down (around 8:30 pm), we cut the string, and the ball drops, harkening in the new year. Silly, but fun. More memories!!! Watch for another blog from me soon on Brenda’s website. I’m betting it’ll be another story around a memory. And thanks for the tip about spices lasting forever! Enjoy your exceptional culinary escapades!

  • Reply Linda Winder January 1, 2022 at 12:41 pm

    What a pleasure reading your first post on 1010 Park Place! Reading your beautiful memories of your mom stirred my memories of my beloved mom. Thank you! Now I am craving a piece of your pumpkin tiramisu! Happy New Year to you and your family!

    • Reply Lee Peterson Baker January 1, 2022 at 2:25 pm

      Dear Linda, YES! My first post! How exciting for me. I am thrilled – and honored — Brenda invited me to be one of her VOICES! I think the holiday season is a time when many of us are jettisoned back to our childhoods and we recall all sorts of memories from our younger years. Some good, some less so. One funny story about a different dessert – also one of my favorites. It’s an almond cake dusted with sifted confectioners sugar. I made it for a friend’s birthday dinner and arranged an assortment of pale-colored candles on top. One detail I didn’t anticipate…….. When my friend blew out her candles, powdered sugar went everywhere…. dusting my dark blue tablecloth! I hope I won’t make that same mistake again! Linda, I hope you continue to enjoy fond memories of your mom throughout this new year!

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