Ham Dinner

Family Relished Her Ham Dinner

It didn't matter if you were a relative, a neighbor or a friend. When you came to our house, my mother, Madeline F., would ask, "Did you eat? Sit down and have a bite!"

If you didn't eat at our house, she'd send you home with a container of food. Mom liked to take care of everyone.

When my four brothers and I were growing up, the house was always filled with delicious foods, from soups to desserts. We enjoyed Mom's great home-cooked meals as well as her delicious cookies and cakes. Everything was prepared from scratch; she never used packaged mixes.

One of our family's favorite meals featured a beautiful Holiday Spiral Ham served with Candied Carrots, Corn Pudding and Pineapple Sour Cream Pie for dessert.

Madeline F

Mom served the ham, with cranberry-apple relish and pineapple wedges, for holiday dinners. Although I preferred plain carrots to the Candied Carrots, everyone else enjoyed the sweet brown sugar glaze. Her Corn Pudding is delicious served warm. I also like the leftovers served cold.

Pineapple Sour Cream Pie is a refreshing alternative to favorites like apple and pumpkin. Sometimes, instead of meringue, I'll top the pie with fresh whipped cream. I make the pie a day ahead and add the whipped cream just before serving.

Mom also made the best strawberry rhubarb pie with fresh-picked rhubarb from our garden. She liked baking breads for the holidays and desserts, too…even fruitcake. Her "secret" baking ingredient was buttermilk. She said it made her desserts richer.

I'd call my mother a "natural" cook. She'd follow a recipe at first, but then substitute different ingredients. She memorized much of what she did. I loved her flaky pie shells, for instance, but she never wrote down the recipe.

Born in Manhattan, my mother grew up with her dad and five brothers in Greenwich Village. Her mother died when Mom was only 6, so she had to teach herself how to cook. When she married Dad, they moved to Syracuse.

At our house, Mom cooked and we ate. One of the few times I helped in the kitchen was when we made doughnuts. My brothers and I would each get a brown paper bag to shake the doughnuts with different sugar toppings, such as cinnamon-sugar and powdered sugar.

Back then, I wasn't interested in learning any kitchen skills. It wasn't until I got married that I really started to cook. The one thing I did pick up from my mom is improvising—when I'm not teaching kindergarten, I love to experiment with recipes. My husband, John, and 18-year-old son, John Jr., are the willing recipients.

I still have my mom's worn, wallpaper-covered cookbook. The envelopes inside are stuffed with recipes she gathered during her lifetime.

Because she didn't write down many of her own recipes, I don't often make a lot of Mom's dishes. But I think of her each night when I put together our meal. I hope you enjoy this special menu.