Mother’s Day special » Utahns share recipes that are tied to memories of their mothers.
By Heather May
The Salt Lake Tribune
Is there anything better than your mother’s home-cooked meal? Even if it’s simple, it is her love— made tangible.
For Mother’s Day, The Salt Lake Tribune asked readers to tell us the food that reminds them of their mothers. We received nearly two dozen submissions with recipes. They ranged from comfort foods to elaborate dishes, many linked to ethnic traditions.
The recipes were more than just lists of ingredients and directions — they were vehicles for telling a story of someone important. And, whether mom was the type to slave over the stove or only cook in a pinch, readers agree, the food she made filled more than their plates.
Swedish pancakes • For the Ericson daughters, the smell of frying batter reminds them of Christmas, birthdays and the first days of school. On those special days, they would awake to their mother, Merri Lou, at the stove, making what the Murray family calls Swedish hotcakes or "roll-up pancakes"— better known as crepes.
It’s a simple recipe — just flour, eggs, milk and oil— but Ericson made the treat as an expression of love and a connection to the past.
Ericson learned the recipe four decades ago to please her new husband. Her mother-in-law —whose husband was Swedish — used to make them on Christmas morning. She didn’t have any daughters, so Ericson filled that role.
She started making them for her own family, teaching her daughters when they were young, and then her granddaughters.
"It really was an act of love because you stood over the stove and you cooked enough pancakes for everybody," said Ericson, 61. "Everybody had to have two or three. If you were lucky, there would be some left over for you."
On a recent evening, Ericson’s daughters — Sara Wyatt and Melinda Janzen — and their children gathered at the grandmother’s house to make the hotcakes. Twelve-year-old Ashley Janzen, who wants to be a chef after learning to make bread, pies and cookies with Ericson, was at her grandmother’s side at the counter, helping mix the batter and pour it in the hot pan, twisting her wrist to coat the bottom of the pan.
The grandchildren ate first. Jaden Ericson, 13, hasn’t learned how to make them himself because "I’m plain out lazy," he said with a smile, as his mom, Sara Wyatt, rolled up the pancake, dripping in syrup and butter, and cut it for him.
Kyle Janzen, 7, prefers his with Nutella and whipped cream, and said they remind him of sleep overs at grandma’s house.
As everyone filled their plate with seconds or thirds, Ericson remained at the counter to make another batch. She hadn’t yet taken a bite.
Molasses squares • At first, Joan Ogden’s mother wasn’t much of a cook. There’s a family story of Alyce Peters’ first attempts at rolls. They were so bad, her husband called them "dumdum biscuits," after the bullets. But by the time Ogden was born, her mother had the kitchen figured out and was an "innovative and creative" cook, said Ogden, now 68.
One of her mother’s more unique recipes was molasses squares — a dessert that could be made in time to take to a PTA meeting or 4H gathering after Peters got home from her job teaching remedial reading.
"It was the essence of Mom, and special because I have never seen it anywhere else in 60-plus years of cooking," said Ogden, of Salt Lake City.
Peters learned the recipe as a child, while living on her grandparents’ farm in rural Michigan. She likely started making it around age 8, in the 1920s, during the harvest. As Ogden tells it, the farmers’ wives and daughters had to feed the threshing and reaping crews, and molasses squares were quick to fix and could be made in large batches.
Ogden now makes the squares, and she uses her mother’s 1950-era black and white Sunbeam mixer to do it.
If she closes her eyes, Ogden can see her mother "holding a tray of them with her salt-and-pepper hair, Mamie Eisenhower bangs and haircut," she said.
When Ogden makes the squares, she naturally thinks of her mother.
"It’s like she’s sitting there on my shoulder, enjoying the whole process. She’s been gone more than 20 years [but] your parents never leave you. … It’s with you. It’s just a part of who you are."
Risotto • Elma Uzelac is 90 but she can still picture her mother standing at the coal stove in their farmhouse, where Cottonwood High School now stands. Veronica Rocca Motta wore an apron over her housedress, her hair in a bob and "a smile on her face, cooking that risotto."
When she immigrated to Utah from Silvano d’Orba, Motta brought her family’s northern Italian classic recipes for three basic dishes: polenta, vegetable soup and risotto.
The rice dish — made with fresh vegetables from the garden — was a Sunday staple. "There wasn’t much variation in mother’s cooking," says Uzelac, who lives on the same street where she was born and raised.
Whatever she had, Motta liked to share it.
Uzelac enjoys hearing from distant cousins, who tell her they loved to come to her childhood home. "Your mother," they’d tell her, "she’d always have us sit at the table to mangiare. That means to eat."
She’d serve a panettone, or cheese and fruit —and lend an ear.
Neighboring farmers would visit her in their large kitchen in the winter. "They knew what they said to her, if they had problems, it was confidential, and she would pray," Uzelac said.
For the risotto, Uzelac’s father would serve his homemade wine and top the dish with Parmesan he would grate off a large wheel he had bought. Motta never learned to drive and didn’t speak a lot of English. Her risotto recipe has been recreated from Uzelac’s memory.
"I remember her joy of cooking. I can remember her hospitality," Uzelac said. "She liked to please people."