My mom cooked a lot when I was young. She got to be a SAHM for a spell, and she would prepare gourmet meals. She made bunuelos (light cinnamon and sugar-coated pasteries). She made Baked Alaska and Cherries Jubilee. I barely remember this, but there are flickers of recollection when I eat certain foods. She returned to the work force when my brother and I started elementary school. She still cooked, but it was meatoaf, hamburger stroganoff or Hungarian goulash–your standard working mom family dinner. We also ate A LOT of left overs. (I’m not a fan. You can read about that here.)
When I began cooking, my mother was an encyclopedia of gourmet knowledge. “Where did you learn this?” I would ask as she would explain to me how to prepare Bananas Foster. My Nanna definitely didn’t cook this way. One day, she showed me.
My mother only had three cookbooks, a dim comparison to my 75+ books of recipe collections, but she knew so much about specialty food–especially for a Texas housewife. During my studies in college, she showed me that one of these volumes was responsible for her vast entertaining knowledge–The Helen Corbitt Cookbook.
Before Julia Child populated the screens of televisions and Martha Stewart planned her first soiree, Helen Coribitt, a New Jersey chef, taught Texas housewives how to cook and Texans how to eat. What ?!? You haven’t heard of her? That’s not a huge surprise. Most people outside of the state of Texas haven’t heard of her, but the inventor of “Texas Caviar” and talented purveyor of poppyseed dressing brought elegance and beauty to the state which prided itself on barbecue, burritos, and chicken-fried steak. In the 1950s and 1960s, she changed the way Texans ate, and we are better for it. She would definitely be a household name if Food Network existed in the 1950s. Her name has mostly disappeared from the world of food. Her cookbooks are out of print, but she’s a chef worth knowing.
When I got married, I took my mother’s Helen Corbitt cookbook with me.Like my mother before me, I have learned several cooking lessons from the food-stained pages of her book. No holiday is complete with out the Chess Pie recipe. (I swear it is the reason Jedidiah married me.)