Flipping through recipes looking for a Mother’s Day dinner dessert, I lingered on “Cherry Berry on a Cloud,” one of my mom’s classic recipes. Mom’s the matriarch of meringues, amassing a collection of dessert recipes that blend crisp yet fluffy meringues with flavorful fillings and toppings.
But today I wasn’t drawn to this recipe for my menu plan. With all things maternal on all our radars this week, I realized if my mom and I had a theme dish showcasing the heart of our relationship, it would have to be the meringue.
Let me first confess that my mom is still a dash dazed and confused over the fact that my livelihood today roots in food. I farm and grow organic food, write about food and sustainable agriculture, cook our B&B breakfasts, lust over cookbooks like romance novels. She’s perplexed not because of my love for food, but over the fact that I never showed one iota of interest in cooking growing up.
You’d always find my mom in the kitchen during my childhood years — cooking dinner for my dad and I, testing new concoctions, graciously spoiling guests with her culinary prowess. As for me, you’d find me anywhere but the kitchen. While my mother tried tactics ranging from warm invitations to outings to pick-your-own strawberry farms, I showed no interest in anything culinary.
Flash forward a few decades, and she’s grinning in that motherly “I told you so” sort of way as we share cooking tidbits, recipes and ingredient booty. While I readily admit to eating my words and now embrace a daily routine with the kitchen and garden as my base camp, I also give due credit to those early experiences observing my mom cooking. While I may not have realized – nor appreciated it — at the time, those early years rooted a love and appreciation for the power of good food that just needed some time on my life journey to bloom.
So how does making meringue serve up insights into the mother-daughter relationship dance?
• Beat till you blend.
Quite simply, a meringue is a mixture of stiff egg whites beaten into granulated sugar. For anyone who ever attempted to mix a meringue by hand, this takes a lot of arm muscle. Basically you just keep at it, beating until the meringue thickens up shiny and white.
And so it goes with mothers and daughters. While sometimes we may feel like we’re on opposite of the ingredient list, if we keep beating and mixing together, eventually we’ll blend. The key is sticking with each other until common ground is reached — which probably just like the meringue — results in a new, different, tastier entity.
• Cook low and long.
Like mother-daughter relationships, meringues are in it for the long haul. Meringues usually bake at a very low 200 degree oven for as long as two hours and then are left in a half-opened oven until completely dried out. Meringues – and relationships — take time to slowly strengthen and evolve. Hot and fast quickly burns out. Slow and steady builds a lifetime bond.
• Embrace the current season.
Meringues often serve as a base for showcasing seasonal, fresh fruit. Early summer strawberries, for example, make the perfect meringue topping. Relish and take advantage of the moment, enjoy and embrace what’s in season.
That enjoy the here and now philosophy applies to the mother-daughter dance. Embrace the connections we have today — we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Maybe I’m catching up on my anti-culinary early years, but I call my mom almost daily with a cooking question. Mom turns 80 this year, entering a time of life when the future reigns unpredictable. Even when I already know how to blanch broccoli or carve a turkey, I’ll call for her opinion and give us both a reason to connect.
Celebrate these bonds between moms and daughters with a meringue at your table this Mother’s Day — and please share your thoughts on the role food plays in your connections with your mom. Here’s a family classic meringue recipe from my mom:
CHERRY BERRY ON A CLOUD
6 egg whites
1/2 t. cream of tartar
1/4 t. salt
2 1/2 c. sugar, divided
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 t. vanilla
2 c. whipped cream, whipped
2 c. miniature marshmallows
1 can cherry pie filling
1 t. lemon juice
2 c. sliced, fresh strawberries
• Beat egg whites, cream of tartar and salt until frothy; gradually add 1 3/4 c. sugar, about a tablespoon at a time.
• Continue beating until stiff and glossy, at least five minutes till sugar is dissolved.
• Spread mixture evenly in a greased 9 x 13 glass pan and bake at 275 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off oven, leave meringue in oven with door closed for another hour or overnight if the oven has a pilot light.
• Mix softened cream cheese, 3/4 c. sugar and vanilla.
• Spread over meringue and chill (best if chilled 12 hours). Stir lemon juice into cherry pie filling and add strawberries.
• Cut into squares and spoon cherry/berry sauce over square before serving. (If strawberries are out of season, you can use two cans of pie filling).