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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Our Hidden Kitchen series returns this morning, just in time for Mother's Day, with Hidden Kitchen Mama, produced by The Kitchen Sisters, Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson.

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Ms. ELLEN SEBASTIAN CHANG: I called her mama because, well, she's my mama. I didn't find out that my mother was white until I was ten years old and that my black mama was, in fact, my grandmother.

I am Ellen Sebastian Chang. I grew up in a small farm town called Pasco in eastern Washington. It was a lot of transplanted people from Louisiana, Mississippi. It's where the Hanford Nuclear Power Plant was built. My grandmother sometimes would say, Go get my wig, we're going to go down to the atomic market. I'm gonna get some greens and some ham hocks, and she was a great cook and she had a big laugh.

I remember playing with the neighbor children. They said, Rose ain't even your mama, your mama's white. And I said, Mama, they say you're not my real mama, and she said, I am your mama and I will always be your mama, but I'm not your mother. I didn't bring you into this world. She showed me a picture of this white woman and she said this is your mother.

I fly to San Francisco and meet my mother. I'm with more white people than I've ever been with in my life. And at the end of the hall I can see these two hippie women, and one's in a pair of jeans. She had cowboy boots on. That was my mom, with the John Lennon wire-frame glasses. And now what'll I do? My mom says, Well, let's get some food. Let's go to Safeway.

This is a huge market. I'd never seen such a big grocery store. So I came upon this thing and I picked it up and I said, What is this? Oh, it's an artichoke. Would you like to get that? And I just remember her cutting off the bottom of the artichoke and putting it in the water to boil it and she puts this thing on the table and it's still really tough.

So here's what you do. She said, You pull the leaf back and you dip it in the lemon and then you scrape your teeth on it. She shows me how to scoop the hairs out of the heart. I said, Wow! I said, You do all that work! It's just kind of a big mess and you're throwing away more than you eat, and I think if my mama was sitting there she would say, This is how you came into the world. It was just a tough situation and you just have to peel back and peel back all this stuff and it's just a big mess. And yet, at the heart of it, it is really tender.

Ms. PEGGY KNICKERBOCKER (Food Writer): I'm Peggy Knickerbocker. I'm a food writer from San Francisco and the daughter of a very good cook.

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Ms. KNICKERBOCKER: My mother was an only child. She was a very beautiful woman. Both of her parents got married after their former spouses had shot themselves, and I think she was a tortured soul. She was very smart. She was one of those people that was of a generation where she didn't work, you know, she was frustrated.

We had a beautiful kitchen that was green and white, and black and white tile floor. She puttered there after dinner, straightening things out, alphabetizing the spices. The kitchen was her domain and it was her secret space and it was a place she could unapologetically drink. Just about everything she cooked had alcohol in it. She made Welsh Rarebit, which is that melted cheese thing that had beer in it, so she'd swig on the beer as she was stirring it into the pot.

She loved to make desserts with hard sauce because we could have the bourbon there; Coq au Vin or Boeuf Bouguignon. She made this other thing called wine jello, gelatin and lemon juice and Marsala, and whenever I'd come home from school, there'd be little nips, little spoonfuls taken out of it.

The kitchen was her refuge and it was really where I felt most comfortable with her, because she was happiest there.

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Ms. CHRISTINA SALAS-PORRAS: My mother's name was Josephina Salas-Porras Acevedo(ph), but everyone called her Pepina(ph). My mother's family were French-Mexican and she always used to tell us, you came from kings and queens.

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Ms. SALAS-PORRAS: My name's Christina Salas-Porras from El Paso, Texas. I'm the youngest of six kids. My mom, I don't think she really loved cooking. It wasn't so much about the food; it was about eating together. We had a big kitchen, Mexican tiles, and it opened to the garden.

Every day, around sunset, she'd pour herself (foreign spoken) tequila, a little light blue, beautiful, thin glass the size of a thimble. And she'd squeeze a big lime in there. And she wasn't a drinker, that was just her one little thing. It made her slow down, connect with us, and okay, everybody, stop, let's all take account of where we are.

My mom was very loved. There was hundreds of people at her funeral, and we passed out little glasses and served tequila to everyone at the cemetery, and we let off some white doves, and we toasted her, and mariachis were playing, the doves were flying around. It was the right way to say goodbye to her.

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Mr. NICK SPITZER (Host, American Roots Radio Show) My mother stayed awake a lot of hours of the day. I rarely ever saw her asleep. Her hidden kitchen was in the middle of the night. I'm Nick Spitzer and I'm the host of American Roots.

I live now in New Orleans, a long way from New England, where I grew up. The kitchen was the place where she would take care of the family's bills. She'd always be clipping some newspapers and planning the meals for the week, make all the bag lunches. It was where all the medicine was kept and where she would sit and read Joy of Cooking, just as surely as she would sit and read the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

The only time I ever invaded that sphere was because she was afraid of mice, so she used to wake me up to come empty mouse traps that she would hear clack in the house in the middle of the night. In the afternoon after school she'd give us tea and pound cakes. She also always had massive place settings, a main fork, a salad fork, a dessert fork. Good manners and treating people well was a centering force for her.

She had an expression that she used with us of kids, which was twixt cup and lip civilization hangs in the balance.

YDSTIE: Hidden Kitchens is produced by the Kitchen Sisters and Jay Allison and mixed by Jim McKee. You can find recipes for wine jello, Welsh Rarebit and other dishes, as well a stories from the Hidden Kitchen's hotline, at npr.org.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne.

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