My mom, Tammy Ahrens, learned early on how to cook for a large family. Growing up on a small farm, she was the oldest of seven children. So you can imagine the responsibility that fell on her shoulders.
Her mom taught her how to make pies and to can fruits and vegetables. She let her make meals for company, too.
Those kitchen skills didn’t go to waste. As a wife and mother, Mom has baked and cooked even more. She and my dad, Leslie, have 11 children. I have six brothers and four sisters—I’m fourth in line. (That’s me with Mom, below.) And we all still live at home.
With such a large family, Mom relied on delicious casseroles, soups, stews and breads while we were growing up. Most of what she made was from scratch, and she’d always use the freshest herbs and vegetables from our garden. For each of our birthdays, she’d make our favorite meal.
My favorite is Tender Flank Steak, Cheddar Twice-Baked Potatoes, Romaine with Oranges and Pistachio Ice Cream Dessert. For years, Mom has also made this menu on Father’s Day. If we’re lucky, she makes it during the “off-season,” too.
When she prepares her juicy flank steak, I often get my nose too close, trying to get a better whiff of the wonderful aroma. Cheddar Twice-Baked Potatoes are the perfect complement, so smooth and creamy…and easy, too. I’ve been making them since I was 12.
The refreshing Romaine with Oranges salad is also simple to prepare. I love the combination of sweet oranges and tangy olive oil and vinegar dressing. It’s colorful, too.
Pistachio Ice Cream Dessert is a fabulous treat, with its crisp crust and crunchy toffee topping. It’s a tradition with us to have just desserts on Sunday evenings, so this yummy dish might appear on our table two or three times a year…and we always look forward to it.
To feed our big family, a vegetable garden was an absolute necessity, and we helped Mom with the weeding. It was one of my least-liked tasks, but we knew it had to be done if we wanted a good supply of food through the winter.
Mom once said that even the toughest job could be fun if we did it together. And that’s the truth! Canning tomatoes and making sauerkraut weren’t exactly enjoyable, but most of the time, we’d be laughing, singing or playing games like I Spy while we worked.
My mother believes that raising us kids is more important than anything. That doesn’t mean she didn’t do other things. She sewed, played softball and took daily walks. She has also home-schooled all of us kids.
I just graduated and hope to be a chef someday. I love practicing on my family and entering baked goods at our county fair. Last year, I won a “best of show,” a blue ribbon and 13 other ribbons. My oldest sister says I should open my own cafe!
The credit has to go to God and to my mom, who taught me to follow recipes, read directions carefully and start a meal soon enough so we don’t eat at midnight!
Now that all but three of the younger kids are cooking, Mom doesn’t cook as much anymore. But she still puts together Sunday lunch and gets up early on Saturday mornings to make pancakes. Her labors of love are always appreciated!
I hope you enjoy these family favorites as much as all of us do.