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WOLF: Collection of old recipes offers treasured reminder of childhood

COLUMN: Everyone’s mom was an amazing cook back in the day
A collection of Mum’s old recipes. (Penny Koers photo)

I’m not an especially good cook.

Mostly, I get by.

I don’t mind cooking, though anything that takes a lot of time becomes less appealing to increasingly screen-addicted me.

As a kid, I cooked exactly one staple meal for myself – hamburger patties, with mashed potatoes and baked beans. Cut up the patties, and mush everything together. Sounds tasty, right?

And pretty much the only reason I made it for myself was because it offended the culinary sensibilities of my Mum so much, she simply refused to take part.

My Mum was an amazing cook.

I grew up in a time where you didn’t watch TV at dinner time (a rule I quickly waived as an adult), gathered at the table as a family, passed everything to the left and had a fairly regular weekly menu.

Mondays, pork chops in mushroom sauce; Tuesdays, spaghetti; Sundays roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, etc.

There was also the baking. Lots of baking. Cookies, cakes, dessert bars and more.

The smells were glorious. Walk in the door and your nostrils were overcome with delight.

It was amazing. All my buddies’ houses smelled like that, too. The Ramwell house always smelled like there were six chefs in the kitchen. The Tillberg home often smelled like a bakery.

Everyone’s mom could have had their own TV cooking show.

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My sister definitely had the cooking gene passed on to her. Me? Not so much.

I have the palate of a nine-year-old and think ketchup is the nectar of the gods.

We lost Mum when we were still basically kids, so I essentially entered adulthood with limited culinary skills.

At first, I relied a lot on my friends – Ron, Wendy, the colonel.

Not good.

As I entered more of a fitness stage, nutrition became more important, so I ate much healthier, but the dishes were exceptionally bland.

It also began the ‘everything in the pool’ phase that continues to this day, whereby a pot of rice is complemented by anything I can find in the fridge – chicken, ground beef, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, corn… anything. All added together in the one pot and grazed upon for three or four days, requiring little else in the way of cooking during that time.

I’m not totally bereft of skills. I can grill a steak, do up the Mickey Mouse pancakes, create a nice homemade stir fry and can open the heck out of the convenient bagged pasta dishes they sell nowadays.

I even went through a brief period of ordering the pre-packaged, delivered meals that include all the ingredients and all you have to do is follow the directions. But there was seemingly never enough to feed everyone, the selection was limited, you could just get all the stuff at the grocery store anyway and it seemed like a lot of work.

My son was a fairly picky eater growing up, so there was no need to offer up the varied menu my Mum perfected. His little brother only likes one or two staples as well, so again there’s little need to diversify my portfolio at this point.

But that doesn’t mean I’ll never try.

I was thinking about Mum’s cooking the other day, as I patted myself on the back for steaming some broccoli and thought about bleaching my hair like Guy Fieri.

I asked my sister if she still had the old plastic container of Mum’s recipes, many passed down from my Nana. I marvel at the time it must have taken in those pre-internet days to type out dozens and dozens of recipes on little cards.

She had the recipes and sent me a few of my favourites, including my all-time favourite, peach upside-down pudding cake.

I haven’t tried yet, because I’m kind of afraid I won’t do it justice. But I’ll make the time. I have to now.

If you have a favourite family recipe or two of your own, feel free to drop me an email. Maybe I’ll try one of those, too.

PQB News/Vancouver Island Free Daily editor Philip Wolf welcomes your questions, comments or story ideas. He can be reached by email at or by phone at 250-905-0029.

Bev Wolf’s recipe for peach upside-down pudding cake. (Penny Koers photo)

Philip Wolf

About the Author: Philip Wolf

I’ve been involved with journalism on Vancouver Island for more than 30 years, beginning as a teenage holiday fill-in at the old Cowichan News Leader.
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