While I had no idea as a child, I found out over the years that my mother brought two considerable influences to the kitchen: Her mother’s Scottish background and the Great Depression. These forces collided in a few odd kitchen habits. For instance, a much enjoyed treat was raw potato sliced thin and sprinkled with salt. Scottish/Irish poor people cuisine, that. And a treat to Mary and me (and my mother). A sweet treat, probably from the same depression era, was “bread, butter and sugar.” Merely a slice of bread, thinly spread with butter, and sprinkled with granulated or brown sugar. My mother’s version of this was sparsely covered. Mary and I covered the bread thickly and then dumped–more than sprinkled–the sugar on. But you had to be quick or you’d get found out and have your slice slimmed back to meagerness again.
There were real recipes as well. Chop Meat Stew and Lamb and Rice were two filling, keep you warm-and-satisfied meals.
Chopped Meat Stew
1 pound ground beef (my mother preferred lean)
4 large Idaho potatoes (about 1 inch cubes)
4 Good sized carrots (1 inch slices, longer at shallow end)
Optional : a teaspoon of onion powder. OR 1 onion, chopped. This got omitted when I was there, as I had thing again cooked union. I think my mom added an extra potato and carrot so the meal stretched as far.
2-3 Bay leaves
Salt and Pepper
about 3 cups of water
Instructions: Break up the beef into the water, stirring so that it makes a thick soup. Bring to a boil, then reduce, and cook covered on low, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Add the salt and bay leaves, onion/onion powder if used, and simmer about 30 more minutes. This time is well used scraping the potatoes and carrots and cutting them up. Add the vegetables and simmer again for about 30-40 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. If the stew is too watery for your taste, a bit of flour or corn starch can be mixed with a bit of the liquid and stirred back in to thicken it up.
We usually had some sort of crusty rolls with butter, or just sliced bread and butter. In my childhood days, there was much more hamburger than carrots and potatoes, but in my young adult years, I reverted to the old fashion way of stretching the ground beef with lots of potatoes and carrots, and a slightly thickened sauce for body.
A friend came over one Saturday as I was making a large batch for dinner and freezing leftovers. She thought it smelled amazing, and I was a little embarrassed at how basic and working class the meal was going to be. She came into the kitchen and gasped, “Mince and Tatties!!” Which is how I found out it was from my Scottish forebears. A classic with dozens of versions. It echoed her childhood so strongly that her burr picked up intensity and for the first time in our acquaintance she talked freely of living in Scotland during the rather sparse post-WWII years.
Lamb and rice is another of my mother’s comfort food recipes. The rich aroma of lamb simmering in its broth had a soothing effect on me. For years I never would try the dish, just enjoying the benign smells. Eventually I helped my mother prepare it a couple of times and tried it. It’s now one of my go-to simple winter dishes. My friend Carolyn, also with a Scottish background in her Western Appalachian family, always looks forward to it. Again, a deceptively simple recipe.
Lamb and Rice
2 Lamb Shanks approx 2 lbs each
cover in cold water with a sprinkle of salt
1 bay leaf (optional)
Bring to a boil, turn down, cover, and simmer until the meat pulls easily away from the bone (about 2-3 hours).
Strain the liquid into another pot, adding enough water to cook 2 cups of rice in the broth, leaving a soupy liquid for the cooked rice.
While the rice is cooking, clean the lamb shanks completely, getting every bit of clean meat from the shanks. Trim the meat so there are no unpleasant bits — this one should be able to be eaten blind-folded.
Add the meat back in, simmer a little to meld the flavors, adjust salt and pepper. Serve in bowls, with the requisite bread or rolls.