Linda Skeens never intended to go viral. The southwest Virginia woman known to family as “Maw-maw” simply entered the county fair baking and canning contests as she has for many years.
Then, Skeens won more than 25 contest categories. The year prior, at a different fair, she won 40 ribbons.
Once the news broke of this “Alpha Baker Dominance,” she was lauded across the land as the most prolific cook ever to crush the cooking competition. The media clamored for an interview.
Her answer to this newfound fame? “I’m busy cooking for my family.”
Listen, Linda, we understand.
Let us note that she is known as “Maw-maw” because — of course, she is. I think all “Maw maw’s” are amazing cooks. There is no possibility otherwise. I have some concerns, actually, that the “Maw-maws,” “Gigis,” “Grannys,” “Mimis, and church ladies of the world are not passing on their culinary skills to other generations.
What if we end up with a dearth of baked goods and casseroles? I don’t want to exist in a world where all backyard picnics, baby showers and family dinners are “catered by Costco.”
I feel like if we all just buckle down and get really good at ONE homemade dish, we can turn the tide. Let the Linda Skeens of the world excel at everything, I’m looking to be known for just one or two things — preferably something more than Jell-O salad.
Yes, my friends, my “signature dish” thus far in my adult life is an orange cream gelatin salad. It is delicious if I do say so myself. People love the stuff.
My late step-father-in-law was a huge fan. I have been asked to bring it to every Christmas eve dinner for the past two decades — when it makes the Christmas fare cut you know it’s good.
Culled from an old Country magazine in the early 1990s, it has been a holiday staple for years. I rarely make it other than holidays, perhaps out of fear that it might lose its magic.
For the record, I can cook. I have kept a family — and my waistband — growing over many years. I make daily dinners and holiday dinners. No one goes hungry on my watch.
Still, I don’t feel like I had a signature dish. That is until recently when I accidentally stumbled upon one: peanut butter pie. I now have two signature dishes: Jell-O salad and pie.
The secret is to use homemade whipped cream. Toss aside the “Cool Whip” and get out the heavy whipping cream (sorry vegans) and, one hopes, a stand mixer. Combine a cup of heavy whipping cream, a tablespoon or two of confectioner’s sugar, and a teaspoon of good quality vanilla and let that whisk in your mixer for 8-10 minutes. Or, I don’t know, a half-hour by hand if you are a glutton for punishment?
Imagine if you had to do this by hand? I’m sure that is why whipped cream was, a century or so ago, a true delicacy. Then, we all fell for the idea that canned whip cream and the polysorbate 60 in a tub were the same things (spoiler alert: they are not).
At one point, I had to swear off Pinterest when it seemed every “recipe” was basically combining ready-made whipped topping and crushed candy bars in a variety of crusts and pans — not that there’s anything wrong with that — but we need to make sure we keep up our “homemade” skills for the coming generations.
To this I say, bring us your casseroles, your sheet cakes, your flakiest pie crusts yearning to be eaten with sweet or savory filling. Dig out your ancestors’ faded and stained recipe cards.
Find the cookbooks with the dog-eared pages and notes scribbled in the margins. “Thomas prefers more butter.” Thomas is probably right, by the way. There is always room for more butter. You measure that with your heart.
My point is not to evangelize my skills with gelatin and pie (although both dishes are delicious). Rather, it is to point out that if everyone just makes an effort to be good at one or two dishes, tops, the “Maw-maws” of the world — and Linda Skeens — won’t have to do it all.
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