I have been cooking family meals since I was 12 years old. Being the eldest of three with working parents, that responsibility fell to me. My grandmother was my inspiration for cooking, but she didn’t live near us. My source for recipes and cooking techniques and tips became a cookbook that my father had given my mother called “The Betty Furness Westinghouse Cook Book,” by Betty Furness and Julia Keane, published by Simon and Shuster in 1954 .
It’s unclear to me how my father came about this cookbook. I do remember he brought it home from an out-of-town trip. The inside page was signed,
“To Betty Daniels – Best Always – Betty Furness.”
A few pages over is the dedication which says,
“This book is dedicated to you, a busy homemaker who gladly prepares three meals a day for your family, and who delights in doing it..”
They were NOT talking about my mama. I don’t mean to suggest that she never cooked. I’m suggesting that she never liked to cook during the early years. Ever. My father cleverly marked out “you” in the dedication and wrote above it my mother’s name “Betty Daniels.” I don’t know my father’s motivation and I don’t know how that was received by Mama. What I do remember is her making the recipe “Leftover Meat and Rice Casserole,” using ham, and how good it was.
That cookbook has always been special to me and I was hoping I would get it someday. I could have bought a copy online but it wouldn’t have my food stains all over it. I loved that cookbook.
My mother never developed a keen interest in cooking until the last few years of her life. She always loved the eating part, just not the cooking part. As her health failed and her activity intolerance made her homebound, she spent a major portion of her day watching television. She discovered the Food Network which inspired her to cook a little. Prior to that stage in her life, cooking was something she did only because it was necessary. After she became interested in cooking, we rarely had a telephone conversation without her mentioning something she had seen on FNTV. Most of the time her comment would be followed by, “I want you to make that dish for me the next time you come up.” That’s exactly what I would do. I usually had my menu planned before I even got to her house. Shortly after I arrived we were off to the grocery store. The next few days would be spent cooking, eating and packaging prepared food for her freezer. I got such pleasure from cooking for her. She loved everything I made and enthusiastically told anybody that would listen what all I had cooked for her. I feel confident that added pleasure to Mama’s life.
When Mama came for my daughter’s wedding in October 2002, she told me she had a gift for me. She handed me a bag. Looking inside I see the Betty Furness cookbook. It has become the star of my cookbook collection. Both front and back covers are torn off and missing but I can look through the pages of this well-loved cookbook and see the stains that I made so many years ago as I was experimenting and exploring the wonderful world of cooking. I keep the well used cookbook in a plastic bag for protection.
This cookbook came with a bonus. Handwritten on the back side of the page signed by Betty Furness, is a note that says,
“To the Mother of the Bride. Hope you enjoy. Mom, 10/3/02.”
Mama died March 2009. This cookbook has become more of a treasure than I ever imagined it could be. A book dealer wouldn’t look twice at a book with both covers torn off, stained and torn pages. This book was good company to me for so many years and it has the last note Mama wrote me. There’s not a book dealer in this world that has enough money to match the value of this book in my eyes and in my heart.
Y’all come see us.
Leftover Meat and Rice Casserole
Adapted from Betty Furness Westinghouse Cookbook
This recipe has become a favorite of mine for the connection to my past as well the versatility. You can use practically any type of leftover meat. For a side that goes well with barbeque, add some bacon and a little barbeque sauce. Browning the uncooked rice reminds me of Rice-a-Roni.
1 medium-sized onion, sliced fine
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced, cooked meat
1/2 cup uncooked Basmati rice
2 cups canned or fresh tomatoes
1 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Brown onion in olive oil.
Add meat and rice. Cook until rice is golden brown. Add tomatoes, water and seasoning.
Pour into 9X13 greased casserole dish. Bake at 400 degrees covered for 30 minutes and uncovered for 15 minutes. Serve at once from the casserole dish. Makes 4 to 5 main dish servings. My toddler grandchildren loved this dish.