If you've been reading these missives for a bit, perhaps you have picked up on the influence of my mother, Betsy Rosenberg. She's been a perennial reference to memories, recipes and anecdotes that I have been sharing in these posts, and I'm grieved to write that I lost her very recently, and very suddenly.
My mother, Betsy Ross Rosen Rosenberg, was the single biggest influence of my culinary style, and probably my life. She was a librarian by trade, but known by all as an expert cook, baker, and entertainer. In the days following her death, I couldn't count how many condolences from friends and family mentioned my mother's cooking and relishment of food.
Born in 1942 in Poughkeepsie NY, my mother was never taught how to cook. Finding herself married to a young doctor whose residency was in rural Newfoundland, Betsy's first foray into cooking was a trial by fire (literally, singing her eyebrows lighting a gas stove for the first time), but by the time she returned to the US she was baking her own bread.
Her parents were francophiles who taught Betsy how to enjoy food, and my mother did the same for me: She fed me snacks of raw hamburger sprinkled with salt on meatloaf nights, showed me how to coax the marrow out of a lamb chop, and made sure that I knew how to extract meat from every inch of a lobster carcass (but would gladly take yours off your hands if you were done with it) My mother loved the reaction she would get by cracking open chicken bones and sucking their insides dry, almost as much as the marrow itself.
But she didn't just show me what tasted good, she showed me how to prepare food, and how to learn about food. She introduced me to the autodidactic pleasures of cooking, and that is no small part of the Boat Sauce story. Everything I know about food comes from my mother's curiosity and appetites, inherent as the shape of our eyes.
Though thrice-vaccinated, my mom caught Covid and pneumonia at warp speed, and went into a coma before passing away. I flew to New York after she was admitted to the hospital, and one day after visiting with her my sister and I had lentil soup from her freezer. It was so unmistakably hers: expertly seasoned, perfectly diced carrots, hints of cumin, and maybe even some Boat Sauce in the mirepoix. Maybe the most memorable thing my mom ever cooked.
I am currently staring at dozens of folders filled with hundreds or thousands of recipes; the only thing I took from her apartment before I left New York were her recipe files. I am trying to make sense of them - many are not recipes in her regular rotation, but recipes she was interested in making. And now, in the wake of losing her, I am most interested in making her food. From the breaded chicken and rice she made when I was young, to the Tangy Braised Chickpeas she downloaded from Smitten Kitchen sometime in the last 5 years, her files tell a story of family, career, friendships, beginnings and endings. May we all die with hundreds of recipes, old and new.
I will be spending the next months working on compiling my mom's most memorable recipes, but in the meantime, here is the one for her beloved ginger cookies, straight from the Settlement Cookbook.
¾ cup butter, room temp
1 cup sugar, plus more for rolling
¼ cup molasses
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cloves
[Note: This recipe does not call for salt, and you don't need it, though sometimes I add up to ¼ tsp. I do like to add salt to the sugar for rolling cookies. I also sometimes substitute some of the white sugar for brown sugar]
Preheat oven to 350. Mix flour, soda, and spices together in a bowl. In an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar. Add egg, molasses, and then dry ingredients. Form into 1" balls roll in sugar, place 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes, turning once. Cookies will flatten when they cool.