Hermine’s Morning Joe by
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I happen to be a tea drinker,  but I do like the smell of coffee brewing,  and when the coffee smells especially good I think of my mother-in-law Hermine.

My mother was a very good cook,  but Hermine was an extraordinary one.   I,  on the other hand,  never prided myself much on my culinary skills.  (See Cooking with Gas)

I did try however,  and over the years I turned out meals for our family of three with no memorable disasters.  In fact I once made a roast chicken so moist and tasty my son said,  “This is delicious Mom,  did you order it from Pastrami Queen or the Second Ave Deli?”

But the truth is when we were newlyweds my husband assumed the meals I served would taste like his mother’s.  When he realized they didn’t,  he diplomatically suggested I ask for her recipes.  But Hermine didn’t have a shelfful of cookbooks,  or a box of recipe cards,  I don’t think she even had a set of measuring cups or spoons – she simply cooked by instinct.

I heard of a new bride who was shadowing her grandmother as she cooked and was taking copious notes.  As the old lady began to season the pot,  the granddaughter, with pencil poised, asked,  “How much salt do you add, Grandma?”   “Just enough.”,  was the answer!

So I too shadowed my mother-in-law and I did master a few of her great dishes.  Legions of our dinner guests have had my version of Hermine’s Hungarian stuffed peppers,  and my sweet friend Renee,  a very good cook herself,  called them comfort food.

But the real bane of my newly married existence was coffee.  I wasn’t from a coffee-drinking family, my folks drank tea,  and I only drank coffee when I was in college and it was de riguer.  But my husband craved a cup in the morning and I never seemed to get it right.

Hesitant to admit that to my new mother-in-law,  I asked friends for advice.  But when I told them Hermine made coffee in a Pyrex percolator they all scoffed.

“Forget the Pyrex,  get an electric coffeemaker and you can’t go wrong.”, said one friend.

“I can’t live without my Melitta.”,  said my neighbor.

“Mon Dieu”, said another friend, “you must get a French press.”

Taking their advice I invested in some serious coffee making equipment but with middling results,  and so I asked around some more.

“It’s not the coffeemaker,“  said another friend who was obviously in the know.  “it’s the coffee,  go to Zabar’s!”  And so I schlepped across town – more expensive,  but no great shakes.

More advice came from yet another friend,  “For goodness sakes,” she said in a derisive tone,  “never buy ground coffee,  you have to buy fresh beans and grind them yourself!”  So obediently I bought fresh beans and dug out a coffee grinder we’d gotten as a wedding gift and had never used.

But I was still turning out lackluster coffee.  So I screwed up my courage and confessed all to my mother-in-law,  and asked her what special brand of coffee she bought that always smelled so good.

“Whatever’s on sale.”,  she said.


It turns out that old glass Pyrex was the answer after all.   Hermine explained that I have to watch the coffee as it perks,  and judge by the color when to take it off the flame.

So I bought a glass percolator and whatever coffee was on sale.  But apparently I didn’t have the knack for coffee-color-judging,  and anyway the damn thing broke in the sink the second or third time I washed it.

I think by now El Exigente is resigned.

– Dana Susan Lehrman 

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Cooking, Coffee, Family


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Oh Dana, today you made me chuckle. I never drank much coffee until last October. We received a Mister Coffee as a house-warming gift when I moved back from Chicago in 1979, so I have the ability to serve coffee to house guests, and always have some around. But, unless I’m out for breakfast on the Vineyard with friends, or traveling, I really never drank any (I was at Yom Kippur services with cousins decades ago and saw one with a huge headache from caffeine withdrawal; decided then and there that I could not allow myself to become addicted).

    Last October, we visited David in London, and, when traveling and eating in a hotel, I will have a cup of “Joe” to start my day. I didn’t have a headache that whole trip and was due for a Botox treatment right after we got back, so that was unusual. I thought about what was different, particularly since traveling across time zones is a sure trigger. Then I thought of that bit of caffeine. My neurologist said they don’t recommend their patients drink a LOT of coffee, but one cup can’t hurt – try it. So, since last Oct, I’ve had one cup in the morning and, until missing out on my last Botox treatment in March, I’ve been doing really well! I am not a connoisseur like your mother-in-law, in fact, though I like the smell, I don’t like the taste. But it does seem to help me.

    But I do admire your persistence in trying to brew a good cup. Danny would be appalled if he saw what I use!

  2. Fun story, and great final image, Dee! Along with the humor I’ve come to expect, I especially enjoyed the cataloging of coffee makers…I’ve tried them all as well, plus a Chemex. Finally settled on a Technivorm Moccamaster, although I’m not sure it’s any better than the others. My grandmother used a percolator, and allowed it to “perk” for at least 10 minutes. I wasn’t a coffee drinker then, but I imagine it tasted pretty grim.

    I, too, have a coffee grinder which I don’t use because I don’t like all that noise early in the morning, but it will come in handy because yesterday I discovered InstaCart had left me a bag of beans instead of ground coffee…and since it’s way too much trouble to try to return them, I’ll just grind them up all at once (albeit in half cupfuls), problem averted.

  3. Suzy says:

    I am a coffee fanatic, but I make it myself so that I can have it exactly the way I like it. Probably that’s what your husband should have done all along! I would never want a non-coffee-drinker to make my coffee, because how could they judge whether it was good or not?

    I have gone through various different coffeemakers – for years I swore by my Melitta, like your neighbor – but now I use a French press. And I always buy whole beans that I grind each morning. Glad to see in your comment to Betsy that Danny is happy now because you have a Keurig, although of course those little cups are terrible for the environment!

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    I’m with you, Dana. I never liked coffee and never learned to make it well, even in a series of fancy coffee makers. I have friends who buy special beans, grind them at home, and use all manners of fancy equipment to produce what they claim is great coffee. All I can say is thank heavens for Keurig,

  5. Marian says:

    Dana, I’m with Suzy as a coffee drinker and had a Melitta for years and loved it. When Dick and I got together, I switched to electric coffeemakers but still grind my own beans and put together blends in the way I like. My mother wasn’t a coffee drinker and made horrible coffee, so I learned early. Loved the part about Hermine and how her intuition and experience influenced her cooking. It reminded me a lot of my grandma Rose.

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