With Mother’s Day fast approaching, it’s worth giving some thought to what mom might like to eat on her special day. For clues, let’s start with a look at the day’s origins.
Some historians will tell you that Mother’s Day has deep roots in the traditions of our earth-worshiping pagan foremothers. Others look to the springtime celebrations of the ancient Greeks, who honored Rhea, the mother of all gods. Still others prefer to find historical antecedent in the fourth Sunday of Lent, which honors the Virgin Mary. All of these roots are probably true. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the current incarnation of Mother’s Day was squeezed into the calendar by a Pennsylvanian named Ana Jarvis, whose mother died on the second Sunday of May, 1907.
By most accounts, Jarvis’ mom was worth remembering. During the Civil War, she ran “Mother’s Work Camps” in West Virginia. She declared her camps neutral, and they aided wounded soldiers on both sides of the battlefield.
While this doesn’t get us any closer to the dinner table, it does suggest that if we want to do any justice whatsoever to the concept of Mother’s Day, we should celebrate peace. Who better to understand the cost of war than the mother who doesn’t want her son to go?
Thus, the Mother’s Day meal should be a celebration of all things feminine. Hot dogs and “Rocky Mountain oysters” need not apply. Peaceful, nurturing fare would be ideal.
To get some expert advice on what mothers want, I asked my mom.
“Strawberries dipped in chocolate,” she blurted instantly.
Normally I would complain that local strawberries are not ready yet, and couldn’t she please desire something more appropriate to season and place. But given the context, I had to be diplomatic. One way around this dilemma would be to celebrate Mother’s Day again once strawberries are in season. Come to think of it, one holiday a year is pretty sparse reward for mom, so why not?
Although chocolate-dipped strawberries are something of a no-brainer for satisfying 99 percent of the world’s female population, the most important lesson I learned from my mom is that it’s difficult, if not counterproductive, to give general advice on Mother’s Day food. Every mother is different, and Mother’s Day food should be all about what she wants.
When my mom said, “I prefer food that is nostalgic, rather than exotic,” I think she struck the heart of the matter. Here is where a study of history—personal history—will really help. You want food with sentimental value that will pluck her heartstrings. But be forewarned: if you get it right she will probably cry.
Obviously, mom should be served. Mom shalt not cook, and mom shalt not clean. Brunch comes up often in the context of Mother’s Day, probably because brunch is indicative of a leisurely and indulgent morning. Let her get up and putter at her own pace while you prepare her favorite girlhood food, which in my mom’s case would be cheese blintzes.
And if your meal is in memoriam, or if mom is far away, cooking her favorite foods will nonetheless invoke her presence at your table. She will be well remembered.
As for those strawberries dipped in chocolate: they may be out of season locally, but on Mother’s Day, what mom wants, mom gets. I’ve always used a simple combination of dark chocolate pieces in a double boiler, with roughly a stick of butter per pound of chocolate. Other goodies—Kahlua, coffee, sour cream, condensed milk or even coconut milk—can be added to the dipping mixture. It’s pretty hard to screw up, as long as you don’t overwhelm the chocolate to the point where it won’t re-solidify. I recommend lots of spoon licking and strawberry gobbling experimentation. After slowly melting the mixture, dip the strawberries and set them on a piece of wax paper on a cookie sheet. Chill—but don’t freeze—long enough to harden the chocolate. Then say “Thanks, mom.”