My mother, though born and raised for much of her young life in South America, learned to cook in a teeny town in Michigan, where her parents eventually moved and owned a restaurant, the Evergreen Dinette. My poor mother spent many evenings of her high school years not only waiting tables but cooking at the old Evergreen, making her share of burgers, pork chops, and meat loaf. No wonder it sent her running for Manhattan, then Europe, and then finally San Francisco.
During my childhood, my parents split the cooking, which I now realize was pretty unusual for a 1970's household. The truth was, my dad liked to cook, and he got home earlier than my mom did, so it increasingly made sense for him to do the bulk of the cooking during the week. He made mostly Chinese food for a long time, but later branched out into Italian, Indian, and Japanese.
My mother did more of the weekend cooking. The food I associate with her is decidedly 1950's American: baked ham, beef stroganoff, salads with iceberg lettuce and bottled French dressing. No doubt these were some of the dishes she dutifully churned out from the Evergeen's cramped and steamy kitchen. Later, she got adventurous, and whipped out chicken kiev, homemade gnocchi, and a heartbreaking dish called Crying Leg of Lamb, in which the meat is roasted over the potatoes, which makes them salty and crispy and unarguably lamby. As much as I loved it, I felt terrible eating that dish, because all I could think of was the weeping baby lamb as I dipped each forkful into cool green mint jelly.
But what I associate most with my mother's cooking is pork chops. Pork chops weren't chic the way they can be now; at the time, they were probably cheap, which is why we had them a lot. She would pan-fry them and serve them with mushrooms and a creamy sauce.
I still love pork chops. They are as malleable as chicken, and super quick. I make them the way my mother made them, but I also make them with a speedy tomato sauce, or with marsala, or with apples. This weekend, I decided to go with plums, since we had a lot to use up. I threw together a plum compote, with red onion for bite, brown sugar for sweetness, and a cinnamon stick for warmth. I let it cook briefly, as I didn't want the plums to lose their shape or color.
It turned out tangy and spicy and a little bit sweet. Not a far cry from the pork chops and applesauce the patrons ate the Evergreen Dinette probably ate--maybe just a bit brighter and fresher. I guess you could call it an updated classic.