Thursday, January 3, 2013

Winter Whites and Food History

Winter Morning Moon

I see January as a month of Winter White even if there is no snow around. My mother-in-law always set out artificial white tulips in winter. Despite the lack of color, they somehow reminded us to be hopeful of spring when real flowers came. I have continued her tradition and enjoy white tulips even if they are silk.

In moving books, I found one I had not quite finished. 97 Orchard, An Edible History of the Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement is a story of food and the people who ate it. It was a little more scholarly than expected, but written with such detailed research, the reader can smell the cabbage in the long, dark tenement hallways. I think food and how it eaten is interesting. I am amazed by our traditions we think are “normal” while others gasp. My family’s habit of eating of dill pickles with pancakes comes to mind.

This weekend I made some cherry tarts my husband was leaving alone which is strange since he eats anything sweet. He said he remembers cherries as so tart he puckered and seeing them is a turn off. Odd since his sister remembers cherry pie from her childhood as a favorite and credits her mother for teaching her how to make a great cherry pie…with lots of sugar is my guess.

My own food history is varied and not particularly unique since it is a mishmash of the ordinary. My Irish paternal great-grandfather liked corn…but he preferred to drink it as he was known for his Crawford County, Kansas still. His wife, my great grandmother, I never knew except in a story from my dad. He said his Grandmother, Mary Catherine of German descent, was a very kind and loving woman. His favorite memory was from the Depression when they were all hungry. She would take chunks of home baked bread and slather it with lard and then sprinkle it with sugar, quite a treat it was.

Dad’s mother, my grandmother, was also from German stock. She went out as domestic help when she was in her teens, ending up cooking a large chunk of her life in cafes. She worked hard, but when I knew her she was a bit slapdash about things. I remember she taught me to eat okra, and she made luscious egg noodles. I am sure these came from her German background. When I would go in the back door and see those plump worms of yellow dough stretched out on a clean tea towel, I couldn’t wait to see them floating in a rich broth for lunch.

My maternal grandfather broke up leftover cornbread and stirred it in his milk. The first time I saw this, I “tattled” on Gramps because I thought it must be bad behavior. Gran assured me many people did it. However, the morning I saw her scramble eggs with brains for his breakfast, I ceased eating my eggs scrambled at their house!

While I only saw green bananas at my house, I saw black (ripe) ones at my in-laws. We salted grapefruit, they sugared it. We salted and peppered both cottage cheese and tomatoes. Our German neighbors sugared them. We used cold milk on oatmeal to cool it; others used warmed milk to keep the oatmeal warm. My dad ate raw turnip sandwiches and my mother loved kippers.

One of my favorite sandwiches (other than garlic bologna) from childhood was a banana, mayo, and peanut butter sandwich. I ate one at college and my roommates gagged watching so I gave up the habit. The one thing from childhood that I have never cooked in my own kitchen is breaded tomatoes. I never liked them as a kid, but I had to eat them if they were on my plate. I learned to love liver when my Cudahy (meat packers) salesman grandfather taught my mom to ask for thin-sliced calves’ liver only. I learned to like spinach in my own kitchen.

My children’s favorites when they come home have nothing to do with their own ethnic background. Stromboli, stuffed manicotti, Golden Burros (learned in Golden Colorado), tacos, cheese and rosemary meatloaf, and the unique recipe called Mexican Manicotti are on their wish list.

Things change, but I think it interesting to see where we all came from in our food habits.

What is your food history?


Susan said...

Hi Bookie...Oh, it's so true. We all have distinct food habits and memories. My father loved hearing us squeal when he'd crack a raw egg into his mouth and swallow it. He also loved buttermilk.

I never could eat liver, thinking that it is a toxin-cleansing organ of the body (any body, human or animal.)

I love Polish pierogi and golumpki (stuffed cabbage) as they were foods from my childhood.

While I am of Polish/Lithuanian background, I love foods from all cultures including Indian (from India), Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian and so on.

Well, guess I just like food. Period. ha haha Take care and thanks for the nice post. Susan

Linda O'Connell said...

It seems I ate a lot of eggs and potatoes, lunch meat sandwiches and pots of things. My favorite ethnic food is Italian, although I never knew my Italian great-grandparents.

Bookie said...

While comments can be slim here, I get a lot of personal emails with comments from readers. I thought the one below was interesting enough to share and the writter agreed. Thanks.

......I remember scrambled eggs and brains at my house, although I did not eat them! Did you have mountain oysters? Something else I would not eat, or regular oysters for that fact. The rest seemed to love fried oysters. Yuck! My mother made her own noodles, after she made several angel food cakes to put in the freezer. She was the best at both!
Everything was from scratch and she made angel food cakes by powerful mixer, but a whip. She would often make one in a big dish pan with a jar placed in the center to form the hole. I think it had 2-1/2 doz, egg whites in it. we were a big family! Always delicious, never fell. Now "I" can make a pretty good angel food, but I have all the equipment and sometimes one falls!!!!

We had chicken feet on a day when they butchered chickens. We thought they were great to gnaw on. Wild mushrooms were a delicacy at our home. Dad loved to look for them and we all loved to eat them. Wish I had some now.

When we moved to Richland, MO, when hubby was at Ft Leonard Wood, we thought it so odd that people down there ate white gravy on their cornbread, but, tried it and liked it. They also ate brown beans. My mother always made the white navy beans, but I learned to like the brown ones.

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Jenny said...

What fun food memories.

I have quite a few, too, but I'm trying not to think of them.

You know...

...the healthy, blah, blah, blah for the New Year!

I somehow just don't have fond memories of eating brown rice and spinach as a child - ha!