- My Mother
Tomorrow– September 26, 2008–my mother Jan turns 90. (Obviously, she was incredibly old when I was born since I’m only 39.)
For years and years she took care of me, exhibiting common sense, humor, and a complete inability to feel guilt. I have never been able to fathom that last characteristic. I feel guilty at the drop of a hat. If my mother makes a mistake, she says, “Oh, well”; apologizes; and promptly forgets about the whole matter. I think her non-guilt is one of the things that has kept her going all these years.
These days, of course, it would be fairer to say that we take care of each other. She had polio in the early 1950s, and her balance is far from good. She gets frailer by the month. She frequently forgets to eat (something I can’t imagine myself doing, alas, even at 90!). Consequently, she needs a little help getting around, fixing meals, turning on the television set (why is it that remotes become increasingly difficult to use even as the American population ages?), remembering which pills to take. I give that help cheerfully—most of the time.
She still helps me as well, however. When I’m cooking something challenging she pitches in in the kitchen, serving as sous chef and dishwasher. When I’m frazzled she calms me down. Best of all, she provides an example of cheer and grace I’d love to emulate. We don’t always agree, but we always appreciate each other.
The year after I graduated from Mount Holyoke College, I visited the campus and fulfilled one of my undergraduate dreams by attending the weekly faculty happy hour. I met Roger Holmes, a professor emeritus who had known my mother in the 1930s. I asked him whether he remembered her and rattled off her maiden name and graduation year. He sipped his drink, nodded, and murmured appreciatively, “Short and full of life.” Those five words still describe Jan Hallett Weisblat pretty darn well.
Here’s a pudding my mother entered in the 2006 Pudding Hollow Pudding Contest. She obtained the recipe from her mother, Clara Engel Hallett, who taught her to cook as Jan taught me to cook. It’s lovely and light—and tastes even better with key-lime juice and rind instead of lemon. I’m thinking of putting a candle on top and using it as a birthday cake tomorrow.
Clara’s Lemon Angel Pudding
6 eggs, divided
1-1/2 cups sugar, divided
3/4 cup lemon juice
2 pinches salt
1 envelope gelatin, dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water
1/2 large (or 1 small) angel-food cake, broken into bite-sized pieces
1 cup heavy cream, whipped and sweetened
lemon peel for garnish
Beat together the egg yolks, 3/4 cup sugar, the lemon juice, and 1 pinch salt. Cook over a double boiler until the mixture thickens and coats a spoon. Remove the mixture from the heat, and stir in the dissolved gelatin.
Beat together the egg whites, remaining sugar, and remaining salt until stiff. Fold the whites gently into the custard mixture. In a trifle bowl (or another decorative bowl), alternate layers of the custard and pieces of cake, beginning and ending with the custard. Chill the mixture at least from morning to night, preferably for 24 hours.
Just before serving, cover the top with whipped cream, and grate some lemon peel on top for color. Serves 10.
For more information about the Pudding Hollow Pudding Contest, visit its web page.
Here’s a later update to this post, adding a couple of photographs from my mother’s 90th birthday party, which was a joyous occasion. The first photograph depicts my sister-in-law Leigh and my nephew Michael getting ready to decorate her birthday cake, or rather her birthday cakes; each of them decorated one! The second depicts the finished cakes. You can probably guess who decorated each. Leigh’s aesthetic philosophy is “less is more,” and Michael’s is “more is more.”
The final picture is one we all treasure, a photograph of my mother (left) with her younger brother Bruce Hallett and baby sister Lura Hallett Smith. We were thrilled to have all three siblings together for the celebration.