A mother's recipes: The ultimate comfort food

 

Pam Rhea holds an apricot nectar cake Monday at her home in north Columbus. The frosted cake is a mandarin orange cake, with mandarin oranges in the cake and pineapple in the frosting. While working from home since March 17, Rhea has been making some of her mother's signature recipes.

Pam Rhea holds an apricot nectar cake Monday at her home in north Columbus. The frosted cake is a mandarin orange cake, with mandarin oranges in the cake and pineapple in the frosting. While working from home since March 17, Rhea has been making some of her mother's signature recipes. Photo by: Jan Swoope/Dispatch Staff

 

Recipes in Jean Towery's own handwriting are treasured by her daughter, Pam Rhea.

Recipes in Jean Towery's own handwriting are treasured by her daughter, Pam Rhea.
Photo by: Jan Swoope/Dispatch Staff

 

 

Jan Swoope

 

 

Pam Towery Rhea has a list. A "to-do" of things she'd like to tackle when she retires. She is business manager of the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library System and, as the Rev. Deacon Rhea, serves the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Columbus, and St. John's Episcopal Church in Aberdeen.

 

Rhea recently began checking off a few line items on the list -- but not because of retirement. That's still off in the future. Instead, shelter-in-place has kept Rhea at home, with extra hours to devote in the kitchen.

 

"I've been working from home since March 17, and I've done a lot more cooking," Rhea said. "I've had this list of things I'd like to do when I retire, and one was to cook some of Mama's recipes that I remember from growing up."

 

 

Fried peach pies and cream cheese pound cake have been among the mouth-watering results.

 

"And I've made so much cornbread -- and Johnny cakes on top of the stove, because my daddy used to love those," said Rhea. Her mother, the late Jean Towery, was born in Smithville and moved to Columbus soon after marrying her sweetheart, Coley, upon his return from World War II.

 

"Mama was not a fancy cook, but she made a sweet at least once or twice a week," said Rhea who enjoyed working from her mother's small spiral-top recipe notebook and an assortment of other recipes she'd jotted down. Like many practiced cooks, Jean was so familiar with how to make her favorite dishes, some instructions were along the line of "put in enough flour until it thickens," so replicating the exact recipe required a little experimentation.

 

As Rhea thought back to familiar foods from earlier years, she discovered she didn't have a recipe from her parent for some of them. She sought out alternatives from other sources, like the internet.

 

"I did an apricot nectar cake she would make. There are 50 different recipes for it, and I have tried them until (I found one that) tasted more like I remember hers tasting," Rhea remarked.

 

The recipes in her mother's handwriting, however, are the most special of all -- like Jean's specialty ham and egg pie that was a signature dish on holidays, or a tasty orange slice cake she baked.

 

Rhea shares three recipes today for desserts her parent often served.

 

The culinary excursion into her mother's cache of recipes has been comforting, Rhea said. Hours in the kitchen with no pressure, no time limits. This is "memory food," and few times are better suited for it than the season surrounding Mother's Day.

 

 

MANDARIN ORANGE CAKE

 

(also known as Pea Pickin' Cake)

 

 

1 butter-flavored cake mix

 

1/2 cup oil

 

4 eggs

 

1 11-ounce can mandarin oranges (drained)

 

1 8-ounce tub whipped topping

 

1 large can crushed pineapple (drained!)

 

1 large vanilla instant pudding mix

 

 

  • Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease and flour three round cake pans.

     

  • Mix together cake mix, oil, 2 minutes medium speed.

     

  • Add mandarin oranges and mix 1 more minute.

     

  • Pour batter cake pans and bake for 25 minutes or until brown.

     

  • When cakes are done, remove from oven and cool in pans 10 minutes.

     

  • Remove from pans and cool on wire rack until completely cooled.

     

  • Prepare frosting by mixing the whipped topping, crushed pineapple and vanilla pudding mix. Refrigerate until set.

     

    (Source: Jean Towery, via her daughter, Pam Rhea)

     

     

    APRICOT NECTAR CAKE

     

     

    Cake:

     

    1 yellow cake mix

     

    1 small package lemon Jello

     

    1 cup canned apricot nectar

     

    1/2 cup oil

     

    2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

     

    4 eggs

     

     

    Glaze:

     

    3/4 cup confectioners' sugar

     

    2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

     

    4 tablespoons canned apricot nectar

     

     

  • Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or Bundt pan.

     

  • Mix together cake mix, oil, apricot nectar and lemon juice.

     

  • Add eggs one at a time and mix until batter is golden yellow.

     

  • Pour batter into cake pan and bake for 50 minutes.

     

  • Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out into a cake plate. While cake is warm pour glaze over top.

     

    (Source: Pam Rhea)

     

     

    FRIED PEACH PIES

     

     

    Pie filling:

     

    3 (6-ounce) packages dried peaches

     

    1 1/4 cups sugar

     

    1/2 stick butter

     

    1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

     

    1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

     

     

  • Place dried fruit in a large saucepan with enough water to cover it. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for about 40 minutes. Mash with fork or potato masher. Refrigerate until cold.

     

     

    Pie dough (or use own dough recipe):

     

    1 1/2 cup self-rising flour

     

    1/3 cup shortening

     

    1/3 cup milk

     

     

  • Cut shortening into flour. Add milk a little at a time. Work the dough until it is the right consistency. Roll out dough and cut into large circles. You can use a small plate or saucer as a template.

     

  • To prepare pies: Put about 1/3 cup of filling in center of each circle. Add filling depending on size of pie. Fold in half and seal edges with a dab of water and then crimp with fork.

     

  • In a large skillet, heat some oil or shortening on medium/high setting, and place pies in hot oil, two or three at a time, depending on size. Brown on both sides, heating filling all the way through.

     

    (Source: Jean Towery, via Pam Rhea, "adapted slightly from sweetteaandcornbread.net for measurements, since my mother didn't use measuring cups!")

     

     

  • Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

     

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