Janet's Notebook
Mom Made It Best: Recipes To Live By

Mom's Fresh Apple Love Letter Cake

"What meal do you remember most from your Mom?"

That simple question came up at dinner with friends the other night, and without hesitation every single one of my friends had a dish that immediately came to mind! The comfort of our mothers' cooking clearly remains with us to this very day.

The first to reply, Tami, spoke with love and admiration of her mom's homemade chicken and dumplings. "Dad would make breakfast," she said, "but dinner was all mom. And nothing could top her from-scratch chicken and dumplings... they were like no other. She would roll out the dumplings and make sure to get them just right. I wish I still had that recipe today."

Upon hearing this, my mind immediately went to home cook Jewel Hall's dumpling recipe. A longtime member of Just A Pinch, it was Jewel's mother-in-law that taught her the way around perfectly prepared chicken and dumplings.

"I [originally] posted the recipe in honor of my wonderful mother-in-law, Lura Hall," says Jewel. "We loved each other so much and we were best friends. Our last words on the phone the day before [she passed] was 'I love you... I love you, too.' Today I looked back at [the] website and there the recipe remained. So many fantastic reviews and 'thank you's'. I was simply overcome with joy. She would have been so happy to have shared this with so many grateful cooks. She took her dumplings to so many family reunions to have them quickly disappear. I continue to make them and I hope you will make them and think of her."

Well, I surely do. Ms. Lura's recipe is the epitome of comfort on a plate... which is just what a mother's cooking should be. With only three ingredients - chicken, butter and flour - and a pinch of salt and pepper, the simple recipe transforms into a terrifically hearty meal that is beyond memorable.

It's dessert that sets Tennessee's Barbara Mayo to reminiscing, namely her Mom's Fresh Apple Love Letter Cake.

"Since I can remember, every Thanksgiving, Christmas and family reunion my mom baked her fresh apple cake in a big old bundt pan," recalls Barbara, who recently won a Blue Ribbon for the heirloom recipe. "Anyone who ever tasted it wanted the recipe, but mom would not give it out. My mom has been gone [now] for 3 years and I have all her cookbooks where she wrote her special recipes that she did not share with anyone. One day I started reading her cookbooks and found all of her secret recipes AND a love letter my dad had written while they were dating! What an inheritance."

Every time we make this cake I feel a connection to Barbara's mother... a woman I never had the opportunity to actually know. It's so magical the way that family recipes like Barbara's can transcend time and geography. Through sharing her recipes with eager strangers, Barbara really is nurturing a truly remarkable legacy.

From that small dinner with friends, to the pages of Facebook and other social media, 'Pinchers from all corners are talking about the foods that mean the most to them: their mom's. A recent Facebook post about Heavenly Hash Ambrosia Salad, for example, sparked a torrent of wonderful memories and reminiscences. "We have photos from the 40's and 50's and 60's of my mom and aunt cutting up the fruit for the ambrosia... such good memories!!!!!" posted Pamela Gleaton Russell. Meanwhile, Lisa Broderick recalled her mom's special ambrosia recipe with great love, stating that "It just makes you feel good."

Sharing these memories has my heart spilling over with joy and my face plastered with a perma-grin. Whether it's a cup of coffee or an age-old recipe, share something special with the ones you love this Mother's Day. We may not all have our moms here with us to celebrate, but we live every day with the gifts they gave us. It's time to give a little back.

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Claudette Phillips - May 23, 2013
I used to have a shoe box that I would throw recipes into. Every once in a while I would be in the kitchen and my daughter would pull out that shoe box. She would pull out a recipe and say - "you remember when we had this at so and so's event - it was so good and remmeber so and so ended up with so and so" Recipes hold memories and I treasure every one of mine.
Regina Tolentino - May 13, 2013
My mom was the "basic" cook - always made the old stand bys that we knew and loved. Daddy was the "lets try this" cook - potato soup with hot dogs, sauerkraut with pork chops, popcorn cake! Daddy's been gone 7 years now and I don't think a popcorn cake has made an appearance at a Christmas dinner since - not because we didn't like it but because no one can make it like Daddy did.
Mary R Morris - May 11, 2013
My mom made the best Coconut cream Pie ,in fact it is her recipe I posted on here Toasted Coconut Cream Pie-My Moms Recipe
Cheri Berman - May 9, 2013
I can't even begin to say I had a favorite recipe from my mom because she brought me into a world that epicureans dream of. However, I will never forget my grandmothers meatloaf. She molded the loaf in a loaf pan and then turned it into a larger pan around which she would add potatoes and carrots. She would then top it off with what seems to be a secret tomato sauce (I have never been able to replicate it.) To this day I eat cooked carrots with ketchup. No one understands but that's how I started eating cooked carrots and I have never changed. By the way, I don't cook carrots much, they are too good raw. :-)
Suzanne Jones - May 9, 2013
Michelle - I love your story! My favorite recipe I make is my mom's potato salad. I just love to make it and everyone in the family really enjoys it. It's especially good as I am not a big fan of mustard in potato salad. I also make my dad's submarine sandwiches he learned to make when he was stationed in Groton, CT back in the 1930's. No Mayo, olive oil only. These and many other recipes bring my parents back to me.
Marian Busse - May 9, 2013
Love your receipe and story thanks much
Michelle Smith - May 9, 2013
My mother's honey fried chicken and her cornbread dressing was my favoriate dishes. I remember holidays chopping bell pepper, onion, celery and garlic it had to be chopped just right for mom. Love and miss my mom but I Thank God for food processors Lol!
Kathleen Strunk - May 9, 2013
Great, thanks Sharon!
Cynthia williams - May 8, 2013
I think my favorite was my mom steak,gravy and her homemade mashed potatoes. My grandmother made the best apple pie and coconut pie.
Karleen Canty - May 8, 2013
Oh wow, there were so many dishes my mom made that were my favorite. If I had to pick just one, probably would be Thanksgiving Dinner, her cornbread dressing is still the best I have ever tasted. Home made green beans with bacon, giblet gravy,and best pumpkin pie ever. She would use left over crust and make cinnamon and sugar treats.
Sharon Davis - May 8, 2013
Kathleen scroll up to the beginning and you will see in blue Jewel Halls Dumpling recipe, click on the words 'Dumpling Recipe' and it will take you to it! :)
Jackie Conklin - May 8, 2013
This story doesn't have the sweet ending that you might think, but it is funny. I alway thought I had the best chicken and dumpling recipe when my boys grew up. I was telling the story how everyone said yum as they ate them. However my oldest said mom I hated your dumpling...had to choke
them down. Sure took the air out of my baloon!
Patricia Savage - May 8, 2013
My mom passed when I was very young so I never had the chance for her to teach me how to make those great holiday meals. I learned how to cook by asking my sisters how to make certain things, but I have my own way of cooking I think my mother would be proud of me. I remember all those great meals so I put my recipes on discs for my children. I want them to be able to have those meals they grew up with and to pass them on to my grandchildren.
Kathleen Strunk - May 8, 2013
I clicked on the highlighted chicken to see how to make the chicken, butter and flour recipe, and it takes me to a lot of chicken recipes but not this one. Where do I go to see how that is made?