There’s a popular story/urban myth about a little girl/husband watching her/his mom/wife make a pot roast/ham and asking, “Why do you cut the ends off before you bake it?”
“I don’t know, it’s the way my mom did it, probably made it juicier. Why don’t you ask Gramma.”
So the little girl asked Gramma, who said, “I don’t know, it’s just the way my mom did it, probably made it juicier. Why don’t you ask her?”
So the little girl called Great Gramma and asked her, “Why did you cut the ends off a pot roast before you cooked it. Did it make it juicier?”
“No,” said great grandma, “When I was first married, my only pan was too small to hold a whole roast, so I cut off both ends so that it would fit.”
Or there’s this one. Same little girl, standing on a kitchen stool, loves to help her mom cook dinner and later as an adult cook, follows her mom’s principal of turning a can upside down and opening it at the bottom—for safety or freshness, she assumes. Years later when they were cooking together on Thanksgiving, the daughter automatically turned a can of green beans upside down and opened it from the bottom.
“Why did you turn the can upside down before you opened it?,” Mom asked.
“Cause you always did it that way,” the daughter replied.
“Well,” said the mom, “we stored the cans in the storm cellar and the tops were always dusty, so I turned the cans upside down and opened the bottom.”
Here’s my version of the Pot Roast Principle. I change sheets and hang them outside to dry each Saturday, just like my mom did. She taught school during the week and Saturday was her day to clean and spiff. These years, I could choose any old day to change the sheets but every Saturday as I fluff a clean top sheet over the bed (“hemmed side next to your body”) and later, fold a fitted sheet (“two corners in each hand, then tuck together”) fresh from the clothesline, I think of her.
There are those who think the moral of these stories is: question the old ways, don’t be too quick to do things the way they have always been done. But I think that holding on to some of the details of our past and the routines of the ones we love, keeps their memory alive.
Here’s a recipe I watched Muth make many times, I made it by her side a time or two, and have made it by myself for years. She bought “country-style” spare ribs from the town butcher, brought them home, carefully cut each slab into two-rib pieces, put them into a Pyrex pan, covered them with the liquid ingredients, and baked them slowly for hours. I do it exactly the same, except for the chipotle peppers in sauce—not available in 1950s Nebraska. I do carefully cut each slab into two-rib pieces just like Muth did. I don’t know why she did that, maybe her pan was too small.
Anyways, happy Mother’s Day, here’s thinking of you Muth.
Oven-Baked County-Style Spareribs
- 5 lbs. country-style ribs
- 1 can diced-in-juice tomatoes
- 1⁄2 c. catsup
- 3 T. Worcestershire sauce
- 3 T. chopped ginger
- 3 T. chopped garlic
- 1⁄2 c. soy sauce
- 3 T. Dijon mustard
- 1 T. dry Coleman’s mustard
- 3 T. brown sugar
- 1 c. chicken stock
- 1 T. chipotle peppers in sauce
Season ribs with salt, black pepper, cumin, chili powder, refrigerate overnight. Mix rest of ingredients then pour over ribs. Bake in 400° oven for 15 minutes. Lower heat to 325°, bake for 2-3 hours. Check for doneness and bake longer if necessary. Liquid should be thickened but not gone. Ribs should be falling-off-the bone tender with plenty of sauce left. The ribs are best when left to their own devices for 20-30 minutes before eating.