Rogue Valley cooks remember special recipes that have been handed down through generations.
Mother's Day and strawberries are as linked in Sandy Dowling's memory as the spectacle of her mother making scones to soak up the berries' juices.
"My mother was a wonderful cook," says Dowling, chef and owner of The Willows Cooking School. "She was just so talented in so many ways."
Among Anne Hull's many talents was her ability to disguise a prosthetic left hand and forearm. Before her 1920 birth in Portland, Hull tangled the arm in her umbilical cord, which — tourniquet-like — severed the developing limb. But scarcely anyone outside the immediate family knew of Hull's handicap, Dowling says, because her mother never left the house without gloves, ladylike fashion for much of her adult life.
"She did not want people to feel sorry for her," the 60-year-old Central Point resident says. "She was so determined."
Hull was determined to raise a family and had three children, although her parents thought she would never marry. One-handed, Hull typed 78 words per minute as a secretary to Pentagon officials during World War II, Dowling says.
In the kitchen, Hull removed her prosthesis and produced perfectly crimped pie crusts and finely diced onions, feats that transfixed Dowling, who later adapted her mother's maneuvers while attending culinary school in Vienna, Austria. When Dowling was criticized for stabilizing her knife blade with her left palm — similar to how Hull steadied it with her stump — the 18-year-old culinary student protested that she did it the "right way," which was, naturally, her mother's way.
"She did everything, and she did it better than most people."
Until Hull died in 2001 from complications of osteoporosis, she and Dowling spoke daily by phone. A day hasn't passed since, Dowling says, that she hasn't thought she should call her mother — until she remembers her mom is no longer there to call.
"I still miss her every day."
If she isn't calling her mother, Sarah Powell isn't cooking.
The 36-year-old Talent resident has worked off and on in restaurant kitchens since she was 14 and helps run the family catering and specialty food business, but she hardly takes a culinary step without consulting her mother, Susan Powell.
"Practically to boil water," Sarah Powell says.
Because Susan is the repository of all her daughter's favorite dishes, Sarah has little reason to write down a recipe. If she does have one jotted down, it's always scrawled on the back of an envelope she plucked from the junk-mail pile, Sarah says.
Susan, a 62-year-old Ashland resident, doesn't mind such frequent phone calls because her daughter deftly tackles catering jobs alongside her mother at least once every month. Although Sarah managed her mother's Pilaf restaurant for seven of its 12 years in Ashland, she has no title at Global Pantry, except No. 1 Daughter, Susan jokes.
"She's my right hand."
Sarah has filled that role since she was old enough to gather eggs and garden vegetables on the family's homestead in Northern California. After they moved to the Rogue Valley, Susan gave Sarah her first job in the kitchen at Ashland's Greenleaf. When Sarah embarked on her own restaurant venture, Sloe Bar & Grill, Susan helped develop recipes like olive fritters reminiscent of Pilaf's falafel.
"She's a little bit ahead of the curve," Sarah says of Susan. "Most people grow up maybe afraid to experiment."
While Sarah still favors comfort foods like macaroni and cheese, Susan is the undisputed master of spices. Sarah may prepare a salad, but Susan always seasons the dressing, often using the Latin and Middle Eastern flavors characteristic of her cuisine.
"It's made me unafraid to try new things," Sarah says.
Ethnic foods are simply chef Cristina Topham's idea of home cooking.
Born to Lebanese parents, Topham's mother, Leona Talley, isn't the primary cook in her Sonoma, Calif., household. But when the 65-year-old does cook, it's always the dishes of her — and Topham's — childhood.
"I thought everybody ate rolled grape leaves and tabbouleh," says Topham, a 37-year-old Ashland resident and food blogger.
"It's influenced my cooking greatly."
Talley and Topham both share a love of avocado sandwiches with lemon juice, sprouts, cucumbers and tomatoes, as well as "fatayers," triangular pastries filled with meat or spinach.
"We called 'em flat tires," Topham says.
From flat tires to traditional French cuisine, Topham's culinary horizons expanded over the years as she traveled the world bringing Thai, Indian and Caribbean influences to her stints working on yachts as a private chef — and home to mom.
"She knows I'm always coming back with a slew of new recipes from wherever I've been."
Try Topham's Indian-Spiced Marinated Lamb Chops With Fresh Mint Chutney, as well as recipes courtesy of Dowling and the Powells, both members of Slow Food International.
Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.