Vera Stewart Shares Her Mama's Best Cooking Lesson

Vera Stewart, host of the VeryVera Show and author of The VeryVera Cookbook, shares memories of her hard-working Mama—and one of her favorite recipes.

Vera Stewart family photo
Photo: Photo courtesy of Vera Stewart

For most children who grew up in my era, it was Dad who did the heavy lifting. When they thought about strength, most thought of their father. In my case, strength was – and still is – synonymous with my petite, 5'3", hard-working mother. Mama (or Betty) lost her husband at age 40 and was left a widow with five children. Quite suddenly, she took on the role of both mom and dad. The inspiration I gleaned from her dual-role has proven to be one of the greatest gifts I've ever received.

While mama's personality and parenting style influenced me in countless ways, it was her insistence that we enjoyed a Southern supper nightly that forever impacted my role as a mother and grandmother, and also my career as a caterer. As a single parent, her days were long, her schedule were busy and, quite honestly, money was scarce, yet dinner time remained a constant for our family. Mama did the best with what we had, and she took pride in preparing a delicious meal for us to sit around the table and enjoy.

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According to Mama, mealtime was to be enjoyed no matter what, even if all we had on-hand were simple ingredients. I learned at a young age to use what was available and make the most of it through unique presentation. Although many years passed before I realized how inspirational a chicken pot pie or egg salad sandwich could be, it's one lesson I apply to everything I do whether I'm making a meal for my children and grandchildren or preparing a catering menu for an event. Everytime I dress up simple Southern staples for a memorable event I remember how grateful I am for my mother's fortitude—both in and out of the kitchen.

I am so proud to have dedicated my book, The VeryVera Cookbook: Recipes From My Table, to my first mentor, my mother, Betty Stewart Wingfield.

Mama's Egg Salad

Just like Mama made it! What makes this egg salad special is the use of Durkee, a sandwich spread found near the mustard at the store. You'll never open my refrigerator without finding a jar of Durkee! If you can't find it locally, yellow mustard and extra mayonnaise can be substituted. This egg salad was sold as a sandwich in the Café or in 1⁄2- or 1-pound containers in our case. Serves: 4

Prep Time: 45 minutes

8 large eggs

1⁄4 cup Hellmann's mayonnaise (or more if you like your egg salad looser)

1 heaping tablespoon Durkee Famous Sauce

1⁄3 cup sweet pickle relish, drained of juice

1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt

1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan, cover the eggs completely with water and cover with the lid. Cook over high heat until the water comes to a complete boil and you can hear the eggs "dancing." Turn off the heat and let the eggs sit for 20 minutes. At the end of the that time, take off the lid and run cold water over the eggs until they are cool to the touch. Peel immediately. Roughly chop the eggs. They should still be chunky. Mix the remaining ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the chopped eggs and gently mix until incorporated evenly. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 6 days. For the Café Sandwich, serve the egg salad on toasted white bread with bacon and tomato.

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