45: Mom Knows Best

45: Mom Knows Best

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love

Mom Knows Best

A food is not necessarily essential just because your child hates it.

~Katharine Whitehorn

“Mom, are we having hamburgers for lunch?” I walked into the kitchen where my mother stood at the stove stirring something in a skillet.

“Yes, in a way.” She added some salt and pepper to the dish.

“What does ‘in a way’ mean?”

Her answer concerned me. At age six I liked the same old thing: meat and potatoes with an occasional, store-bought, canned green bean thrown in. My mother worked to expand my “Will Eat” list, but I remained vigilant to catch any new food items she might introduce.

“It means I’m trying something new and you’ll like it.” She drained the grease off the meat, went to the cabinet and pulled out a can of soup: another bad sign.

“Soup? Why would you add soup? I hate soup.” I watched as she opened the can and poured the contents into the browned hamburger.

I picked up the empty can and read the label. “Mom, what’s chicken gumbo?” The name sounded unusual and dangerous.

She continued to stir the ingredients. “It’s a kind of soup they serve in New Orleans. It’s French... and you like chicken.”

It was true. I loved chicken: fried with mashed potatoes, no gravy.

The exoticness of New Orleans and France appealed to me too. I had always wanted to visit both places. Maybe chicken gumbo wouldn’t be all that bad.

I pointed at the skillet. “What’s that white stuff?”

“Rice.”

“I hate rice.”

“You’ve never ever had rice, so how can you hate it?”

True, I’d never eaten rice, but that didn’t stop me from hating it.

Before I could say another word, Mom added, “Rice is to the Chinese what potatoes are to us. You like potatoes. You’ll like rice.”

As I thought about that response, my mother added a couple of tablespoons of ketchup to the skillet and stirred.

I loved ketchup. It was the only extra thing I put on hot dogs and hamburgers. Maybe a little would make the dish edible.

“Is it done?”

“Almost. Now go get your father so we can have lunch.”

When I returned to the table I found a toasted slice of bread sitting on a plate at my placemat. My mother ladled the meat mixture on top. She said the prayer before we ate. At the “Amen,” I scooped up a tiny sample with my fork and stuck it in my mouth, ready to make ugly faces if I hated it, but it tasted great in a new way.

“What’s this called?” I asked. “Hamburger Splatter.”

We all laughed. After the first taste, I added it to the list of foods I would eat. Over time Hamburger Splatter became a comfort food for me.

•••

Several years and many helpings later, I asked Mom to make some for lunch when it was just the two of us. I sat at the kitchen table and watched her prepare the dish. After she added the ketchup I put the bread in the toaster because I knew that was the last step before she served the meal. I turned to ask her a question and saw her spoon a couple of tablespoons of yellow mustard into the skillet.

“Mom, you’ll ruin it with that mustard. I hate mustard. I won’t eat it.”

My mother turned to me with a big smile on her face. “I’ve always made it this way.”

Shocked, I said, “I never saw the mustard.”

She laughed. “That’s because, in the past, I sent you out of the kitchen to do something while I added it and stirred quickly. I knew you’d throw a fit.”

These days when I need a little comfort and a bit of home, I make Hamburger Splatter. When the time comes to add the yellow mustard, I laugh. I still hate the stuff, but I scoop two tablespoons into the mixture and think of my mother who knew what to do when the hamburger hit the pan.

Hamburger Splatter

1 pound lean ground beef

1 10 3/4 oz. can of Chicken Gumbo soup

1/2 cup finely chopped, yellow onion (optional: not in Mom’s original recipe, but I like the added flavor)

2 tablespoons cooking oil

1/2 cup prepared yellow mustard

1/2 cup catsup

Salt and Pepper to taste

One slice of toast per serving.

In a non-stick skillet, heat the cooking oil and sauté the (optional) chopped onions until soft. Add the pound of ground beef and brown. Drain the oil and fat off the meat.

Return the meat in the pan to the burner. Pour in the can of chicken gumbo soup and stir. Add the catsup and prepared yellow mustard. (If you have a child or adult who doesn’t like mustard, send them out of the kitchen before adding the mustard.) Stir again. Let the mixture simmer for about 10 minutes.

Taste. Add salt and pepper as needed. This is also the time to add additional catsup or mustard if desired.

To serve, place a slice of the toasted bread on a plate and spoon the mixture over it.

Makes about 6 servings.

~Robert Chrisman

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