Friday, July 23, 2010

Flashback Friday: Food for Thought & Thoughts on Food

What is food to one man may be fierce poison to others.
Lucretius (1st century BC)

What were meals like when you were growing up? Did your mom (or dad) cook (and was it from scratch or from a box?) or did your family eat out much of the time? Did you eat together as a family or was everyone on a different schedule? What did you call meals? (Dinner vs. supper, lunch, etc.) What were some of your favorite things that your parent fixed? What did you dislike and vow never to fix once you grew up? Did your family have any food traditions, things that were a must on certain occasions (such as Sunday dinners or holiday meals)? Did your parent teach you to cook or did you wing it once you were grown? How similar or different are your family's eating habits today than when you grew up?

When I was growing up, my family ate breakfast, lunch, and supper. Occasionally, Sunday lunch was called dinner. Supper was the main meal every day but Sunday. We got to buy our lunch at school once a year, for our birthday. Other than that we took our lunches (as did our dad) with a nickel to buy milk. (In elementary school, I always had a lunch kit, but usually dropped it and broke the thermos pretty early in the school year!) We always ate dinner as a family, usually around 5:45. And the TV news was almost always on during dinner. We usually only went out to eat when we were traveling - maybe one other time during the year. Although my parents generally went out on their anniversary, and they always went to Bill Bennett's Steakhouse in the Sky on the edge of downtown Houston until it closed.

My mom was a good cook and a not-so-good cook. The main problem was that she cooked things to death, especially canned vegetables. Canned English peas are already grim enough without boiling them to oblivion! And canned spinach is disgusting, especially when my mom would serve it cold out of the refrigerator. I just recently discovered how good asparagus is roasted or grilled; that was another thing my mom served refrigerator-cold from a can. Shudder. Sometimes my dad would have a garden, and we'd have fresh vegetables then; the main things he grew were tomatoes, mustard greens. My dad would be thrilled if we had a supper of cornbread, mustard greens, and butter beans; I usually begged for peanut butter on those nights!

She also liked things pretty bland. (One of her biggest frustrations when she lived at Assisted Living was that they always had a sauce and heavily seasoned food. Most other people thought it tasted fine! And when they got a chef that cooked with wine, she about came unglued! "That's just not right.") She did like Mexican food but my dad hated it, so she would make us tacos and enchiladas (they were very mild but still good!) for lunch during the summer and then spray air freshener all over the house so my dad wouldn't complain about the lingering odor when he came home from work. When I took Home Economics and came home with a recipe for taco salad, all of a sudden my dad decided he liked tacos. Go figure!

But the basic things like fried chicken, roast beef and gravy, veal cutlets etc. she did fine. Except meatloaf. I distinctly remember the first time I realized why it's called meatloaf, when I had some at my grandmother's house that was actually shaped. My mom's was waaaaay too moist.

One of the weird things she used to make before we found out that raw eggs aren't good for you was a "shake milk," as my sister called it. We drank this on summer mornings when we were immediately going to the pool because we didn't have to worry about waiting for our food to digest. (Waiting 30 minutes to swim after eating was such a big deal when I was a kid! I thought you were guaranteed to die if you jumped in the pool too soon! I don't hear people say that now; in fact, people bring food to the pool!) Anyway, our liquid breakfast was a glass of milk mixed with a bit of sugar, vanilla, and a raw egg, all beaten together with the egg jiggler. It sounds gross now, but it tasted good.

Although it's just as well that we quit making them; I don't think I would have been able to drink one after watching Sylvester Stallone drink those raw eggs in the movie Rocky!

One of our favorite things that my mom used to make was "cheese gravy" and "ham gravy." (Normal people call it Welsh Rarebit!) She would make a white sauce (making a butter and flour roux, then adding milk and stirring until thickened) and then add either cheese or cut-up bits of Carl Buddig shaved ham. We ate it for breakfast over toast. It was a big deal when my kids were little to get to stand on the stool and help grandmommy stir the gravy.

My mom made everything from scratch and that rubbed off on me. The only thing she used a mix for was angel food cake, because she couldn't stand to waste all those egg yolks. She made great desserts - chocolate chip cookies, tea cakes (which were cookies, kinda like sugar cookies only no icing or sprinkles), coconut pie, etc. And homemade cinnamon rolls.

She also made GREAT french fries. No Fry Daddy for her - she just did them in a skillet.

A huge memory for me related to food in childhood was my inability to chew due to my horrible bite. Getting braces in sixth grade wasn't vanity; it was practical, and I've been grateful ever since! I was almost always the last one left at the table, either because I couldn't chew the food or didn't like it. I do remember getting a spanking once for spitting out bites into napkins and trying to hide them in the trash so she'd think I cleaned my plate!

  • On Thanksgiving and Christmas, we always had fruit salad for dessert. My dad really had a sweet tooth, but my mom "didn't see the sense" or have the kitchen room to make multiple pies, etc. But our fruit salad was a production. It was comprised of oranges, apples, pineapple, and bananas. Once you got your bowl of salad, you "doctored it," as my mom used to say, which was putting the add-ins of your choice on the top: pecans, walnuts, coconut, and miniature marshmallows. Then you sent the bowl back to the end of the table where my dad would add the whipped cream. (Real whipped cream that he whipped at the table and we fought over licking the beaters.) Once your bowl looked like it contained a snow-covered mountain, it came back to you to be eaten.
  • Spiced Tea. This is one of my absolute favorite drinks for the fall and winter, and I've never known anyone to make it like we do. Forget that dry mix made with Tang; that was great when I lived in the dorm, but real spiced tea is made with cinnamon and cloves and the juice of oranges and lemons; you can see the recipe here.
  • On Sundays we always had fried chicken. Occasionally, if it was a special occasion, we would have "veal cutlets." My dad didn't want to leave our gas oven on while we were it church, so we never had roast beef on Sundays. I always had to peel the potatoes, which I hated (peeling them, not eating them!).
  • Milk. My family drank milk. My parents drank milk at dinner most of the time when we were growing up; in the summer if my dad had been sweating in the yard he'd have iced tea, but most nights it was milk. Whenever a meal had the slightest possibility of being a special occasion, I would beg to have tea instead of milk. I eventually got to where I'd just ask if I could have tea after my milk. (Drink one glass of milk and then switch.) My mom would rarely let me do that. In fact, it got to the point of embarrassment & humiliation when I was in high school and my best friend would come to dinner. My mom would give her tea and STILL make me drink milk. After drinking all that milk, why I ended up with osteoporosis before I turn 50 is beyond my comprehension!
  • Ice cream. I don't remember my mom EVER buying "real" ice cream. When it was on sale for 39 cents she would buy a carton of mellorine. It came in a rectangular carton made from flimsy cardboard. When I grew up and discovered Blue Bell ice cream I thought I'd arrived in ice cream heaven!
  • Chocolate Syrup. Speaking of ice cream, my mom always made homemade chocolate syrup. It beat Hershey's syrup by a mile. She made it with Hershey's cocoa powder. My mouth is watering just thinking about putting that on ice cream or stirring it into some milk or coffee. I haven't made it in ages but I think I need to fix some before long!

FOODS THAT GROSSED ME OUT (and still do!): (Apologies if you are reading this over breakfast. Maybe this isn't the day to have a mocha with this blog!)
  • The overly cooked (or ice cold) vegetables as mentioned above. My dad took peas to a new level of disgusting! We'd have peas one night, and then the leftovers a second night, and then when there was nothing left but the dregs of a few smashed peas and the juice, he would pour that on bread like gravy. I thought he was absolutely nuts.
  • Salmon croquettes. They looked nothing like what you see in most cookbooks or restaurants. She apparently didn't do the right type of breading before frying them. I still can't make myself eat those, even the ones that look like they would taste good.
  • Fortunately, as the youngest I missed this "delightful" era, but my siblings and dad took lunches to school/work with sandwiches made from Treet (similar to Spam), fried bologna, or tongue (cow's); I've only seen tongue one time at a grocery store since I've been an adult, thank goodness. It looks just like what you would imagine! I did find it on Google Images, but I'll spare you! Blech!
  • Cornbread and milk - my dad would sometimes crumble his cornbread in his milk and eat it with a spoon. I've learned that was a fairly common thing way back when, especially with poorer people, but I'll keep my food and milk separate, thankyouverymuch!
  • This was the worst: my mom used to occasionally fix herself some scrambled eggs and brains. Talk about a disgusting smell. It makes me cringe just typing it. Apparently it used to be a popular thing. And it might still be in some areas. I just saw a question on a cooking forum where someone in California had eaten them on a trip to Virginia and was "smitten" and wanted to know how to fix them!
  • Finally, this isn't a childhood memory but one from my college dorm days, and that's Shepherd's Pie. They usually fixed it on Saturdays at lunch, and you could see every food that had been served the previous five days mixed in there! It was pretty grim. I still won't eat anything called Shepherd's Pie. My man's college days ruined him for anything named Hungarian Ghoulash!

It is illegal to give someone food
in which has been found a dead mouse or weasel.

Ancient Irish law

Well, that was way too long. So now that I've totally grossed you out and lost all my readers, what about you?! Post your food flashback and link up here!


View blog reactions


quilly said...

You just reminded me of Mrs. Jensen's rolled peanut butter pancake sandwiches. Mrs. Jensen had 12 kids -- and quite often me, too! -- so she was a very frugal cook. She served pancakes for breakfast every morning and we would take the left overs, spread pb&j on them, roll them up, and eat them for lunch.

Now, in case you were wondering how you reminded me of that, it was the Treet. Mrs. Jensen would grind Treet, dill pickles, and onions together, then add mayo and make a sandwich spread. We kids would put the spread between two pieces of jelly then cook it over the wood stove in sandwich presses. Those were two of my favorite lunches!

And I've been told that when I was a tiny tot I was happy to eat both sardine and tongue sandwiches with my grandpa.

Diana said...

I got tickled, Linda, at your "Foods That Grossed Me Out." Enjoyed the post!

Lyn Cote said...

My mom was a great cook when she was younger. But later she got tired of it. I'm trying not to get tired of it!

Lyn Cote said...

My mom was a great cook when she was younger. But later she got tired of it. I'm trying not to get tired of it!

Jim said...

Oh Linda, this is soooooo good! I pasted the instructions in but can't do it now. It might be another 'latie' for next week.
I just got back home and the whole household has fallen apart. Mrs. Jim stayed on in London for until Aug 4 and she would kill me it I wrote this morning, I still have a lot of HOT honey-and-home-do items pending.
But yours is great, we all will identify with so much of what you wrote.

Cathy said...

Sorry, I'm not eating tongue ever. I don't want to eat anything that can taste me back! lol

Don't want the brains either. Gross!

Fun post Linda. Loved playing along this week. Thanks for doing this meme for us.

Christine said...

I think that you should share your Chocolate Syrup recipe! Would love to try it.

2nd Cup of Coffee said...

This was great stuff, the stuff chapters in memoirs are made of. How in the world you can remember those details is beyond me, but I'm glad you do.

Just this last weekend, my girlfriends and I were at the lakes talking about the previous generation's penchant for overcooking canned (or any, really) vegetables. Blech.

Although, I REALLY like canned peas better than frozen. :)

Beth said...

Loved this post! My mom is a wonderful cook, for which I am very thankful. She passed that love of cooking to me and I have in turn passed it to my girls.

Mom didn't like milk, so the 3 of us girls didn't drink it at all--chocolate milk at school with lunches. Mom was from the south, so sweet tea was had at most nightly meals. My dad worked as a sod and vegetable grower and mom as a teacher. She would come home and cook a big meal each night and we would wait to eat until dad got home. Some nights, if they were harvesting onions, it would be 7:30before we ate.

We had a garden and my love for canning stemmed from canning grean beans.....I branched out and have learned to can many things now.

Great post---brings back a lot of memories.

sara said...

thanks for linking me up!

mustard green/collards greens...all the same in my book! yuck!!!

Barbara H. said...

I think I am one of the few people who actually likes spam, at least for a couple of things! But it has to be browned, not straight from the can.

I do remember fries from scratch, too -- loved them, though I am happy to use frozen now.

I never had scrambled eggs and brains, but I remember seeing them in the store and being grossed out by the thought.

Mama Zen said...

Oh, I love cornbread and milk. Must be a southern thing.

Beth Zimmerman said...

I doubt you lost any readers! I thoroughly enjoyed that! I kind of wish I had taken notes throughout so I could tell you all the places which inspired me to laugh or mutter "me too!" For now I will just wonder aloud how I forgot milk? That was our normal beverage too! We must have gone through gallons daily! My sister's family still does. Mine drinks more water or pop these days.

Mary said...

We were big milk drinkers, and my boys and husband are, too. When they were younger, we would go through at least 5 gallons/week!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Great post, Linda. I will admit my stomach is lurching a bit. Funny how times change, we used to hate "buying" lunch. The fruit salad sounds yummy, though.

Crystal Mary said...

I just popped in.
Reading your post on buying school lunch once a year on your birthday..Life was diffent then and I believe we appreciated everything much more.
We walked to correct wood for the copper to heat for our bath and wash the clothes.Life was full of wonder and joy.. God bless your day.

Beverlydru said...

I've always liked food. Even the memories of food! Fun post.

Becky said...

Thanks for weekly urging me to take a look back and remember just how blessed I am and have been! Blessings to you Linda!

Vicki Goldsberry said...

I found your post because I got to thinking about Bill Bennett's Steakhouse in the Sky. People from my dancing school (Hallie Pritchard School of Dance) used to go there after shows, way back when. Loved your post.... I have to have Spam and even Vienna Sausage about once a year just for the sake of nostalgia. And I remember Daddy making Brains and Eggs. Actually I don't think he made REAL brains -- he scrambled eggs with oatmeal and called it Brains and Eggs. I watched him eat a Vienna Sausage sandwich a week ago. Great memories. Thank you!