19 Feb 2013

What mama did: making mashed potatoes

This is a four part series. You can read part one over here.

I’ve been thinking about how we moms want our kids to remember us. And maybe what we think will make an impression on them is very different than what they end up remembering. Maybe it’s not keeping up on the laundry or the dishes or doing the perfect crafts or attending every sporting event. Maybe our kids are marked by memories of our motherhood we couldn’t possibly imagine let alone check off a list of recommended parenting to-dos.

So I invited four friends this week to share a “What Mama Did” post with us. What special, unique memory did they carry away from their wash, rinse, and repeat days of childhood that their moms never could have planned for?

And on Friday I’m going to ask you to come and share your own “What Mama Did” memory. May they encourage you and remind you that you are beloved so much deeper, higher and wider than the laundry hamper.

Today, Eric shares what his mama did…

My mom would bring them to me when I was sick.

I would sit down on the couch in front of scrawling pictures and she would bring me a big bowl, steaming.

She made the gravy the right way, the way that uses real chickens, or turkeys, or a beast. I use packets that say McCormick’s. I tell myself this is OK because my mom is a great cook, and I am an efficient cook.

She probably used chicken gravy, because I remember it being lighter in color. She would dump the gravy on top of the taters and by the end of it, I’d have a beautiful stew without the chunks of meat.

I’m sure she asked how I was doing, or if I needed anything. But I always just needed the taters.

The taters do not appear as often as they used to. I’m grown and I’m busy, but sometimes I get them. Sometimes I text my wife and say chicken and potatoes and she texts, OK – or that’s my interpretation, because while she loves potatoes, she does not love potatoes.

I’ll pick up spuds on the way home, and a chicken already warming. The bird goes in the oven to stay warm, though it’s just an excuse to have taters and gravy. I’ll make the gravy the efficient way – a packet of McCormick’s and a cup or two of water. I always get two packets, because their idea of a cup of gravy is not the same as mine.

This efficient gravy does not taste like mom’s gravy. This is important. Mom’s gravy is cooked with fancy things that I don’t know about, but she’s told me about several times. She takes care to explain what she’s explained thousands of times to me because she is there and I am here. She says it’s easy, but her easy is not the same as my easy, and so I use packets. she says this is fine, so I feel good about it.

At home, I attack the taters. Mom had this peeler that is the best peeler in the world, and she has since given me three of them. It’s like a magic wand and in ten minutes I can have an entire bag of taters reduced to cubes and in a pot of water awaiting boil. She taught me this.

Late last week – maybe Thursday – it was a tater day.

The beauty of mashed potatoes is that there is always leftovers.

Today was a leftover day.

Home for lunch, I loaded the cold white chunks onto a plate and mashed them a little, then poured gravy over it. Gravy becomes a gelatin when left in the fridge, which fascinates me. It jiggles and jives while cold, then spreads itself out to blanket the taters when it’s warm.

Into the microwave, covered for explosions, I watched this happen. I watched the plate spin and the gravy turn to a more liquid state and cover the white chunks that just absorbed the heat selfishly. The timer went off, I pulled out the taters, grabbed a spoon like someone out of Oliver Twist and sat before my computer. To read. To think. To type.

{What food did your mom used to make just so?}

Eric Siewert is the mind and fingers behind ernestenvy.com. He works for a publishing house in Chicagoland, where he lives with his wife, Kristin. His origins are of more noble stature: the Great State of Minnesota, where his Chef-of-a-Mom still resides. This post first appeared as a part of Just Write.



{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1

    Love this post to the moon and back, Eric. As a mom who makes mashed potatoes from scratch for two very enthusiastic boys, I’ve never thought before how it might be something they grow up remembering and trying to emulate. It’s a thought that crawled up under my rib cage and warmed a spot there. Thank you for reminding me that mashed potatoes is so much more than just the potatoes.

    • 2

      Thank you, Lisa-Jo, for your kind words and for letting me share my memories. You’ve made my day and my mama’s! She said she wishes she could make taters and gravy for everyone!

  2. 3

    Sweet…s w e e t remembrance.

    It makes me wonder what my own babies will remember most about the comfort foods I’ve made them their entire lives.

  3. 4

    Such a sweet tribute to your mama, and how she let you come alongside her as she served you up warmth through comfort food and the comfort of her next to you as you watched her cook. Love it.

    My mama made a homemade spaghetti sauce that I soooo loved, and I’m pretty certain there was a packet of McCormicks snuck in there…

    • 5

      thank you! my mama’s love language is food for her kids, i’m truly spoiled each and every visit home. from time to time i’m able to get her recipes right.

      that spaghetti sauce sounds delicious! i’ve only ever used a jar…i shall have to experiment.

  4. 6
    Jenny Trask says:

    And now all I want is mashed potatoes and his Mom’s gravy. So much! Great post! I think my kids will remember Mexican food night that turns into Mexican food week at our house! Mmmmm!! And as much as I love and crave Mexican food I still want his mashed potatoes and gravy so bad now! Like, salivatingly (new word) bad!!

  5. 7

    Isn’t it interesting how the little things in life end up being the most special and priceless memories? Love this!

  6. 8

    This made me tear up, and I’m not even sure why.

  7. 10

    Ha! If I’m honest my mom didn’t do a lot “just so.” It just wasn’t her personality. For her butter, crisco and margarine were always interchangeable and separating egg yolk and whites was a waste of time. Although I will say that now that she’s gone none of us can replicate her pumpkin muffins…. we can’t find the recipe or figure it out.

    No matter how laid back she was, nothing could top her muffins. Always warm, always plenty always a little bit of homey comfort wrapped up in thin paper.

  8. 11

    Your potato post has my mouth watering, Eric!

    Pot Roast. Juice-dripping-melt-in-your-mouth post roast. That’s what I remember my mama making.

  9. 13

    Some days are tater days – YES. So true. I use packets for making gravy, too – and my husband says it’s fine, even though his mom was an amazing cook who made her gravy without packets. My mom is an efficient cook herself, but though she’s no gourmet, she taught me the basics well – things some girls never learn or have to take classes to learn or panic in those first days after the honeymoon because they haven’t learned yet. So I’m thankful for her cooking, her making, her teaching – even if I still use packets from time to time. {Love this post, Eric! So glad you shared here!}

  10. 14

    I hope I have left lovely memories with my boys. I’ll take a potato memory. :)

  11. 15

    I love this story so much, Eric, and I’m so happy to see you here! I love it when my favorite people get together and make good stuff happen. (When that stuff includes homemade mashed potatoes, so much the better!) Thinking about the potatoes I have at home right now…how many hours until dinner time??

  12. 17

    Oh, yes! My mother made mashed potatoes and chicken and gravy…. Now I know what I must make for dinner tonight.

    Robin Dance in her comment wondered what our kids will remember about the foods we prepare them, so here’s a story my son told me: Matt, during his sophomore year of college, 1200 miles from home, found himself having one of those rare days when everything was going wrong. When lunch time arrived he pulled his lunch out of his back pack and discovered it was smashed to mush. Well, that was the last straw. He was so discouraged he sat down and took a few minutes to think and pull himself together. He concluded, “I need my mom!” Since I was in Washington and he was in California, he had to find another way to have his mom in his life, and he did. He went to the store and bought Campbells Bean & Bacon soup and made himself a toasted cheese sandwich — which I fixed for him a thousand times or more when he was growing up.

    Thanks for the great post, Eric, and thanks Lisa-Jo for this series.


  13. 18

    Love this post. I remember after I had all three of my tinies all I wanted in the whole wide world was my mother’s roast beef dinner.

  14. 19

    Such a sweet tribute, and it makes me remember those little things my mom did, too. And makes me wonder what random, little things my kids will long remember that I won’t even think of. Thanks for sharing, Eric.

  15. 20

    Potato lovers unite!

    It’s *still* what I request from my mama when my family and I visit home. Officially called “picnic potatoes,” they are potatoes with cheese, butter, and corn flakes.

    Oh, the yumminess.

    And thank you for reminding me that it’s often the simple things kids remember most fondly. What an encouragement! Love, love, love this post, Eric.

    • 21

      picnic potatoes sound delicious! my mother-in-law makes them this way and i delight in them.

      the idea of simple things as the greatest things is one of my favorite things. i’m a simple man, through the simple i express and receive love.

      thank you for your kind words, Kristen!

  16. 22

    “She takes care to explain what she’s explained thousands of times to me because she is there and I am here.”

    Oh how this describes me and my siblings, living all around the country calling our Mom for her recipes. My Mom’s love language is absolutely the same as yours, Eric, and boy did she ever show us her love through feeding us well. My Mom made all of her best recipes ‘just so’ and almost none of them have a written recipe. And I believe craving those dishes, and calling her up to ask her how to make HER version, and craving all the memories that are about so much more than the food, I believe thats how we love my Mom back.

    Love this series, Lisa Jo! Thanks Eric!

    • 23

      it’s a splendid love language, is it not? i have the same problem, mama never writes anything down, and when she does it’s between the lines and the ingredients and no matter what i do it’s always missing that one special ingredient i’ll never have quite right: mama’s love.

      glad to hear there are others out there that spend hours on the phone asking the same questions again and again…perhaps it’s not the answer that matters as much as the time on the phone, together.

      beautiful memory, Cari. thank you.

  17. 24

    This was so touching! And I giggled a bit with the way your LOVE of potatoes was so apparent and then… I found my eyes oddly leaking and my screen go blurry as I recounted countless times (the last just yesterday) dancing in the kitchen while preparing a meal with my mother- and for me it was soup! My mom can make soup like nobody’s busines… and I’m not talking the break open the pre-packaged chicken broth and add some chopped vegetables and noodles soup. Nope! I’m talking start from scratch, throw everything you’ve got in the pot and boil away soup… and in the end when your wrap your hand around the warm mug of steaming goodness, you feel nothing but love right down to the last noodle slurp! Thanks for taking me back Eric… it’s good to remember!

    • 25

      the highest praise: mysterious eye leaking. thank you so much, it means so much that my memory touched you in this way.

      i love your memory; dancing in the kitchen with mom splendid and the care that goes into making anything from scratch is never lost on us, eh? i can smell the soup. delightful!

  18. 26
    Frey North says:

    What a vivid remembrance. Reading it, I could almost taste the potatoes and gravy. Especially the gravy. The good gravy. The Mom made gravy, with all the good stuff in it.

    For me, it was my mom’s Tater Tot Hotdish. A rich, creamy mess of veggies, cream soups & ground beef topped with the crunchy goodness of tots. A great way to warm up on a cold Minnesota winter night. My wife makes a great rendition and we have it at least once a month throughout the winter.

    • 27

      ahhhh, a Minnesotan! Tater Tot Hotdish, a marvelous idea. i’m glad to hear the tradition continues, and one i have sadly not continued here in IL. i must correct this. keep Minnesota great for me. i miss it.

  19. 28

    Oh I’m so glad to see this post here. I love it.

    Thank you, Lisa Jo, for featuring these moving words, and Eric, I’m pretty sure I’m going to think of you any time I have taters. And I’ll keep thinking about the ways that we are carried forward inside our children. Thank you.


  20. 31
    Rebecca Keltner says:

    This post reminds me of when my son was in college. One of his roommates had a box of potato flakes on the counter. My son asked what kind of cereal these were. Of course his roommates made fun of him and asked him, “doesn’t your mom ever make mashed potatoes?” My son replied, “yes -with potatoes!” They were amazed that anyone made mashed potatoes from a recipe. My son proudly told them that his mom didn’t use a mix for anything – this led to many Sunday afternoons on the phone teaching those boys how to make their own mashed potatoes…..gravy……pot roast….brownies, etc. Precious memories – thank you!

  21. 32

    Taters have such varied memories for me. And I craved them, something fierce, after delivering each of my babes. My mother, though, made a mean wilted lettuce salad. And I can never seem to get it “just so” like hers. So, I let her make it and fill me with all the love it’s made with.

  22. 33

    what a beautiful portrayal of your mom. my mom too was (and is) an amazing cook and i attribute my love for cooking and creating in the kitchen to her.


  1. […] after posting this, Lisa-Jo Baker popped over and found it. She then asked to repost it, and of course i said, lovely. you can see it in a grander way here. […]

  2. […] she thought it’d be fun to dialogue with this twenty-something punk. she invited me to her internet home and we shared mashed taters and […]

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