My maternal grandma, Mawmie, used to tell me I should be a hand model. She had beautiful hands with Streisand-length nails, which she painted bright colors into her late 80s.
Mawmie’s mitts were her prized part, and she protected them with Palmolive and lots of lotion. Before I could drive, Mawmie was convinced her genetic contribution would one day pay off for me. And years later, a parts career fell into my hands.
In addition to being moderately psychic, Mawmie knew more about food than any person I’ve ever known. She and my grandpa, Pawpie, were a match made in culinary heaven. Mawmie read cookbooks in her spare time, while she and Pawpie watched people eat for fun.
The two of them were so much fun and had such BIG…personalities!
They owned restaurants throughout the city, including The Buck 49 on Bourbon Street, Pearl Oyster Bar on St Charles and the Peppermill, which still serves up Mawmie’s recipes today.
Mawmie’s pantries and refrigerators (yes, she had more than one of each) were loaded large with goodies, and her stove was always hot and bubbling, while mouth-watering aromas filled the entire house.
On a hot Summer’s day, I loved nothing more than to fall into the cool pillow of Mawmie’s embrace as she wrapped me in her loving arms and satin muumuu. Her affection, like her table, was always abundant.
Whether Mawmie and Pawpie were hosting a party or having an informal family gathering, a decadent spread was sure to be enjoyed: fried calamari, cannelloni, macaroni, corn bread dressing, oyster patties, shrimp remoulade, crawfish bisque, crab au gratin, ham, lamb, candied yam…followed by: spumoni, cannolli, casata cake, lemon ice and fig cookies from Brocato’s, and Doberge cake from Gambino’s.
Whatever the occasion, Al Martino, Connie Francis and Frank Sinatra would play in the background, over sounds of children playing in the pool and adults laughing loudly, arguing, and laughing again…
Unlike the minimalist-monotonous menus of my other life in California, where wheatgrass and apple cider vinegar were enforced by the spoonful, in New Orleans, food was celebrated and always abundant. I visited the Big Easy during summers and holidays, during which I was a kid in a sweeet candy store! There, I spent my days blissed-out and bloated. By 9, I could out-eat most men. I figured I could always cleanse when I returned to California.
But once in a while I’d respect my mother’s wishes by refusing certain foods. My relatives, but especially Mawmie, had a hard time accepting any rejections of good New Orleans fare.
The first time I told Mawmie I was a vegetarian (a title I would adopt on and off throughout my life), she stared at me a while, and said calmly, “Well then I’m just gonna cut you a little piece of veal.”
“But my ma…” I answered.
“Your motha?” Mawmie asked nodding her head slowly while extending a long elegant finger in my direction.
“You tell your motha she’s a jackass,” she continued.
Taken aback by more staring I simply said, “Ok.”
“Listen to me,” Mawmie said still pointing, “You eat whatever you want!”
Then she placed a huge breaded veal po-boy in front of me and sat there smiling until it was gone.
I used to describe Mawmie as “A big angel and a little devil.” She passed away a few years ago, and just like her accurate prediction of my career path, my description of her is truer than ever…
For a special treat, I’m including Mawmie’s pecan pie recipe (in her own writing):
Best Pecan Pie
- 1 stick of butter
1 cup Light Karo Syrup
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
1 dash salt
1 cup chopped pecans
1 8 or 9 inch unbaked pie shell
Brown butter golden (do not burn), let cool. In separate bowl add all other ingredients in order listed; stir. Blend in braised butter well. Pour into unbaked pie shell and bake at 425° for 10 min. Then lower oven to 325° for 40 mins. Serve warm with ice cream on top or plain – great!
I do so enjoy these conversations about your family and your early years in New Orleans. I can smell the food cooking and hear the chatter around the table. So much of what is good about life and childhood is remembered around a kitchen table. That is exactly my grandmother's pecan recipe (except she used Dark Karo Syrup). I have that same recipe card, penned in the same pretty hand, and splattered with goodness. Thank you for the memory.
Thank you Schmootz, yes so many fond memories around Mawmie's kitchen table! I'm curious if your grandmother's recipe also called for an entire stick of butter? I think the ingredients are fairly standard, but I'm curious about the proportions… Ah, but then again, you are from the south!
Oh my gosh…I have tears in my eyes. Not only is this beautifully written, I could feel the love and joy that is Mawmee. Thank you for this. Your story is one of the highlights of my week!
I really love hearing about your childhood and little Deli's struggle between a world of wheatgrass and a world of wicked food!
Thank you CK, I'm so glad you TOO had tears! I burst out a few times while writing this – it's great to hear that you also felt her warmth and magic 🙂
Ok, I think the Southerners and the Jews are close cousins. I think your Mawmie and my mother would have got along famously.
I love your photo logs. What a wonderful collection I wish I had of my own history..
By the way, now I can see where you get those adorable faces you make 😉
Yep, I agree Randi! And I also think the Jews and Italians have a lot more than guilt in common 😉
As far as your last comment, in all my years that NEVER occurred to me. Wow, sometimes it takes an outsider to point out the obvious. Thanks, I love having even more in common with Mawmie than our winning hands…
Oh Mawmie!! I loved you and your forced feedings for then I could easily shrug and say, "What? You want me to eat MORE? Um…okay", pretending that it was obedience driving me to my fourth serving. How truly fun to eat my way in to immobile oblivian. Adele, your talent abounds and I LOVE YOU!!!!
I can't WAIT for the day this becomes a book. Amazing pictures. Amazing stories. Amazing Mawmie and Oh MY GOD!!!! THE FOOD!!!! What a WONDERFUL woman Mawmie was. Whoever she met she must have touched their lives deeply. I'm grateful to have received a piece of her here. And one day, by golly, I'm gonna make that pie.
Thank you Lynn!! She was everything you say, so amazing and wonderful, such a big HEART. God I miss her. Let me know when you make that pie…hint hint 😉
And Shanabgood, I LOVE YOU too (as did Mawmie)!!!
hey adele. this was a good one…a great one, in fact. all i could keep thinking about, tho, was how much clarita looks like mawmee. amazing! i guess we all turn into our old relations eventually. scary thought for me. anyway, i loved the story and already had some of the memories through knowing you so long. absolutely loved the photos too. that food! i would have been disowned in your family! mawmee did like my tahini poppyseed salad dressing. i felt very special around that.