Sunday, October 29, 2006

Duke's Mixture

A few weeks ago, a wonderful Oklahoma friend and college pal used the phrase "Duke's mixture" on his blog. Even though I had completely forgotten the phrase existed, it brought back my mother with the power of memory I didn't think possible. How had I completely forgotten the phrase she used to use all the time -- especially when it came to cooking?
Anything she improvised she called "a Duke's mixture." As I grew up, it increasingly was used to refer to leftovers or things she'd made up from scratch like turkey salad from the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers and whatever mayo, mustard or pickles she had on hand. One amateur Internet word sleuth tracks the phrase from the thirties and says while it was originally a brand of tobacco, it came to denote an elaborate mixture, something more than just average. But for my mother, it was any conglomeration. When she tampered with recipe spicing or combined leftover vegetables from the fridge, it was always "just a Duke's mixture."

Reading that one phrase I'd completely forgotten it was like an entire roomful of memories was unlocked. I felt like someone who'd been shown a photo album they didn't know existed. And for as long as I live, I'll cherish the image of my mom, in the kitchen, in an apron, stirring something on the stove -- and calling it a Duke's mixture.

Growing up, we often make an effort to avoid words, phrases or affectations our parents use. (Until, of course, the day we find ourselves using one as we slowly turn into our parents.) But in this case, I think I'll start using Duke's mixture in my own kitchen every chance I get. I'm not really the maternal type, but if I was, I'd be proud to tell my own daughter that it was something her grandmother used to say all the time. And while I'm standing in front of the stove stirring something, probably leftovers from the refrigerator, I'll hope that she takes it along for her cooking, too.

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