Writer Emily Wallace shares memories and the recipe for her mother's Broccoli Cornbread.
Emily and Myra Wallace
Credit: Courtesy of Emily Wallace

Emily Wallace with her mother, Myra Wallace. Circa 1985

As my mother tells it, I emerged from my babysitter's house one afternoon with a grin so wide it rivaled the flash of the tinfoil packet I clutched in my hands. My grin stretched even wider when, after hopping into the passenger seat of her Dodge Lancer, I peeled back the aluminum to reveal a heap of chocolate chip cookies. "Did you know you could make these at home?" I asked, stupefied. "I didn't," she shrugged. "We'll have to try that sometime."

My single mother embodied Lorelai Gilmore's quick wit and disdain for cooking long before the Stars Hollow sitcom Gilmore Girls came to be. The show first aired in 2000—the fall I went off to college in another state—and on my phone calls home we swapped opinions about the story line of another mother-daughter duo trying to make it, a pair who also ate most of their meals in a diner.

My mom could cook—quite well, actually—but rarely had the time. She worked three different jobs: teaching high school on weekdays and community college classes on weeknights and playing the organ at church on weekends. So, more often than not, our dinner table was that of Carolyn Artis at The Coffee Pot, Jane Ellison at the Galley Sandwich Shop, or another parent or friend.

When I was 6 or so, I invited a prissier girl over to play, and she couldn't believe I didn't have any dolls. (I preferred my collection of stuffed bears.)

So my mother, the champ, climbed the steps of our pull-down attic access and retrieved an American Girl doll named Molly who had been packed away. Then she slipped and fell through the opening in the ceiling, breaking her wrist and ankle. One thing she ruefully recalls from this accident is that, when my friend's mother met us at the hospital, I rejoiced at her offer to bring us home-cooked dinners and continued to rejoice to various folks for days and weeks to come. "We got baked spaghetti today!" I'd singsong.

But I loved our way of eating, not just for The Coffee Pot's chicken and rice or the Galley's tuna sandwiches, but also for the community that it added to our two-person home—for the likes of Jane, who kidded I'd become a tuna fish if I didn't order something else, or for Bryant Wellons, a teenager who worked at the Galley and once magically made a whole sleeve of napkins erupt like confetti from their aluminum dispenser on our table. (We clapped.)

I also loved that our way of eating made moments when my mother cooked seem extra special (for the most part—I was, of course, a kid). There were the delicate little dishes she prepared for her bridge club, often requiring a set of colored toothpicks that I'd grab from the corner cabinet. There were the "egg hole in ones"—a piece of toast with an over easy egg in the middle—that she would pan-fry for Saturday mornings on the sofa. And there was broccoli cornbread for every holiday, always.

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I could easily make that cornbread at home to enjoy beyond Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. It's not much more than a box of Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix and a pack of frozen chopped broccoli, a recipe my mom acquired from a babysitter when I was just a toddler. But I don't have my mother's dinged-up pan that bakes crisp browned edges (broccoli cornbread is this particular pan's sole purpose, and the year it went missing is not a time I recall fondly), or the tiny metal spatula she uses to cut just the right-size squares. Besides, broccoli cornbread is my mom's thing. And when she packs it up for me in a tinfoil packet to take home, I don't think I could grin any wider.

Broccoli Cornbread

Serves 8 (serving size: 1 [3-in.] square)
Active 10 min. | Total 50 min.

12 oz. cottage cheese
1/2 cup (4 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 (10-oz.) pkg. frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
1 (8.5-oz.) pkg. corn muffin mix (such as Jiffy)
1 small white onion (about 3 oz.), chopped
1 tsp. table salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 11- x 7-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Process cottage cheese in a food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds. Stir together cottage cheese, butter, and eggs in a large bowl. Stir in broccoli, muffin mix, onion, and salt.
3. Pour batter into prepared baking dish. Bake in preheated oven until golden brown, about 40 minutes.