Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Baby Boomer's Food Memories - with Recipes from My Mother's Kitchen

Growing up, I was a very finicky eater.



How finicky were you, Rosy?

I was so finicky I didn't even try pizza until I was 15. (It looked funny).

I was so finicky, my idea of a salad was plain iceberg lettuce and a carrot.

I was so finicky, when I went to a Chinese restaurant, I ordered fried chicken
 (remember "Chinese-American" restaurants?).

I was so finicky that when I was invited to eat over at a friends house, I had to ask, "What are you having?" and make my decision accordingly. 
(Did not want to get myself into a situation where I had to try something that would make me gag like cooked carrots).

I was lucky that my parents didn't make me eat whatever was on offer.  I think they tried but after several under the table feedings to the dog or screaming fits that the cooked carrots were making me gag, they gave up (I was a budding actress after all). My mother would just make something different for me.



Despite my limited repertoire, the food I did eat was very comforting.  My mother was a good cook and made everything from scratch.

Breakfast.
Growing up, breakfast would usually consist of a soft-boiled egg in a bowl, chopped up with a little butter, and some toast  (butter mixed in with soft or hard boiled eggs is very yummy).

My mother was up every morning to see my Dad off and get me ready for school. Since my Dad had to be at work by 8am, she was up at six or so and she did this every day for 50+ years (unlike some people who will remain nameless but her name starts with an "R" and ends with a "Y.") 

Lunch.
Lunch would often be what my mother called "Johnny Cake," which in my view was just cornbread but it seemed special, especially smothered in maple syrup.

Here is her recipe for "Johnny Cake:"



1 C. corn meal                               1 egg
1 C. flour                                       1 and 1/4 C Sour Milk
3 T sugar                                       3 T Butter
1 t salt                                           ( var. add molasses for 1/4 c sour milk)
1 1/2 t baking powder
3/4 t. soda

(When my mother died I took her little recipe box with all of her recipes and this recipe is from that, handwritten by my mother.  Nothing else was on the card so I am assuming you mix all of that up and figure out the oven temperature and the baking time on your own. The sour milk is a Swedish thing).

She would serve this with butter and maple syrup.  I remember even eating this when I was in high school.  I lived a block from school and would go home for lunch (you could do that in those days).

Or I might have a tuna sandwich.  But tuna salad?  Oh, no.  I didn't want any "stuff" mixed in with my tuna, so my mother would toast the bread, butter it on both sides (yes, you heard me right), spread the inside of the bread with Miracle Whip and lay the white albacore tuna onto the bread with some iceberg lettuce. The buttering of the bread on both sides was a special treat and is truly yummy.

Another favorite was Campbell's tomato soup, made with milk, and a little butter added once it was hot and in the bowl.  That was my Dad's touch.  If I was lucky, my Mom would add cut up pieces of toast with peanut butter on it.  I know, it sounds gross but it is really delicious.  And even really finicky people have their odd little indulgences that no one else can understandElvis had his peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches and I had my peanut butter toast in tomato soup.

Dinner was more of a problem because my mother had my Dad to please.

He was rigid in his expectations.  Dinner on the table at six, bread and butter on the table and there must be dessert, even if it's canned fruit.

He was a meat and potatoes guy with the occasional casserole thrown in.  I could do meat and potatoes up to a point (hated prime rib and steak - too chewy) but the casseroles?  No way.  I remember my mother trying to sneak things into my food but I would always suss them out. 

So if dinner consisted of something I couldn't abide, my mother would make me something different such as creamed peas on toast or chipped beef on toast, which I loved.  It was basically a white cream sauce with either the peas or the chipped beef stirred into it. (And do not go there with that other name for chipped beef on toast.  My mother would not approve).

Another favorite was what we called "Kraft Dinner," or better known as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  My mother would throw some bacon into it or cut up some hot dogs.  Yum.  I hate to say it, but I have yet to come up with a mac and cheese recipe that tastes as good and comforting to me as "Kraft Dinner."  It was a staple for my own kids too.



Evenings consisted of a variety of snacks.

My Dad was a big snacker.  I have fond memories of him lining up about six Ritz crackers he had spread with peanut butter along the edge of the kitchen counter and tipping each one into his hand and popping it into his mouth, followed by a little "aren't I clever?" laugh.

I would share his snacking in the evening as we watched television together, that is, when he wasn't working one of those three extra jobs he had.  My mother would usually be either reading the newspaper on our screened-in front porch or downstairs ironing.  She had no interest in television. I can remember saying to my Dad, "I am craving something but I don't know what it is" and he would then proceed to quiz me on what I might want. 

If there was nothing in the house, we might end up going to Mills Ice Cream for an ice cream cone or a taffy apple (that's what we called Caramel Apples) or he might run into the local theatre and buy some popcorn for us to take home or stop at the A & W for a quart of root beer to make root beer floats at home.  Or he loved nothing better than to whip up something for me.  He would make up some concoction and it would be just what I wanted.  He would laugh and say he should have been a short order cook.



When we were really lucky, my Dad would make caramel ice cream using his Aunt Laura's recipe. It's the best ice cream I have ever had.


Here is the recipe for Aunt Laura's Caramel Ice Cream
(also called Cooked Custard Ice Cream):



1 1/2 pints whole milk in double boiler
1/2 C flour
1 C sugar
2 eggs
Mix the flour, sugar and eggs and milk. 
1 C suger-carmelized - add to above mixture.  Stir until mixed. 
Note:  If sugar and custard are same temperatures when blended, the sugar will not lump.
Remove from cooker and cool.
Place in ice cream machine (we had the hand crank type)
Add 1 quart whole milk.
This recipe makes 2 quarts of rich ice cream.  Double to make by the gallon.


Every Sunday we went to church. 

The night before my mother would get a coffee cake ready so she could pop it in the oven in the morning.  After church we would come home to a big lunch of pork roast, with potatoes roasted along with it so they came out all carmelized and luscious, followed by dessert of one of my mother's homemade pies.  She made the best pie crust.  It was always white and flakey with the most beautiful fluting around the edges.  I wish I had her recipe for her crust.



But here is her recipe for coffee cake:



1 C milk (scalded)                        3T butter
1/4 C suger                                  1/2 t salt
1 cake yeast (crumbled in cooled milk)
2 eggs
3 and 1/2-4 C flower

Add butter, sugar and salt to scalded milk.  Cook to lukewarm.  Add yeast.  Add 1 C flour and beat with Rotary Beater until well blended.  Add eggs - beat again-Mix in remaining flour.  Let rest for 5 minutes.  Knead and put in bowl.  Let rise until double.  Push down and knead slightly.  Make into coffee cakes, let rise until double.  Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.  Delish!

(I love that she wrote Rotary Beater.  Must have been a "new-fangled contraption."  "Delish" was her word added to the end of the recipe card.  Actually, "delish" was one of her words for anything really delicious.)


This time of year, I think of apple cider, doughnuts and hot turkey sandwiches. 

We would drive out into the country, buy a gallon of cider from a farmstand and then my Dad would make doughnuts in the deep fat fryer, lovely cakey doughnuts that he would dust with powdered sugar.  And the Thanksgiving turkey would yield leftover turkey for my beloved hot turkey sandwiches: a turkey sandwich covered with turkey gravy.


There was a decidedly different attitude about food and ingredients in the 1950's and 60's

When I would ask my mother what was in something, she would reply, "Oh, everything good.  Butter, sugar, flour, cream..."  Those were not the enemies they are now in our politically correct foodie world of today.  But also more dishes were made from scratch in those days so I guess they really were more healthful.  McDonalds didn't materialize until I was almost a teenager.

I was really intrigued by Robert Putnam when I saw him speak at a library conference.  He is the author of "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community" (2001), and he spoke about the fact that we have become disconnected from our families, our communities and neighbors.  We no longer belong to bowling leagues, join groups, or even have dinner parties.  He blames this on long commutes, two career families, changing generational values, technology and TV.  I think he is right. 



But back when I was growing up, I can't tell you how many potlucks my mother went to. 



She even had a little round fabric carrying case for her dinner plate, her salad plate, her coffee cup and saucer and her utensils when she attended big church functions and the like (I can't imagine that if she went to a potluck at someone's house she would have to bring her own stuff, but who knows?). 

Her go-to potluck contribution was invariably her 7-Layer Salad.  She would always say, "They gobbled it right up.  There wasn't a smidgen left."


Here is her recipe for 7-layer Salad:
(and it really is a cut above other recipes I have seen.  Must be the sugar).

Use a large straight-sided pan - 9 x 13.  Assemble in this order

1 head of lettuce broken in small pieces
1/2 C chopped green onions
1/2 C chopped celery
1 can sliced water chestnuts
1 pkg. frozen peas, uncooked
Sprinkle over lettuce.
Spread 1 pint Hellman's Mayonnaise over this, then sprinkle 2 Tbs. sugar.  Then sprinkle on 1/2 Cup grated Parmesan cheese.
Cover with Seran (sic) wrap and refrigerate over night.
Next Day:  Sprinkle about 1/2 jar of Bacos over salad.  Then cook 1/2 dozen eggs (6), chop and put evenly on top of salad.
Top with 4 thinly sliced tomatoes.

Frozen peas:  I only ate 5 vegetables growing up.  Raw carrots (as I have said repeatedly, cooked carrots made me gag), raw celery, frozen peas, corn and plain iceberg lettuce (if iceberg lettuce can be called a veggie).  And I actually ate the peas right out of the frozen bag.  Try it,  They are really good!

My mother's brother owned a little grocery store in the neighborhood where they grew up so my mother felt she should buy her food from him.  She would call in her order and my Uncle Hibby would deliver the food.  That was all well and good for her, but I, who lived and breathed Saturday morning cartoons, was very frustrated by the fact that he never seemed to have the new cereals or candies I would see advertised on the TV.  Our staples were corn flakes, Cheerios and Shredded Wheat.  But on the occasion when we would go to the store itself, my Uncle would always let me pick out some candy to take home.  My mother would go next door and buy a smoked fish and she and I would devour it together when we got home.

My Dad, however, did not like fish so we never had it as a main course.  My Dad knew I liked it, so on Fridays, when they served fish in the cafeteria at his work, he would wrap the fish patty in a napkin and bring it home to me.  His doing that for me felt as good as the fish tasted.

My Mom's parents came from Sweden so my mother had a fondness for smoked fish, pickled herring and other Swedish delicacies.  I loved the smoked fish, forget the herring.  But one Swedish food I was passionate about was the Swedish Rye Bread.  Her recipe was the best.  I have never had Swedish Rye Bread to match it.



Here is her recipe for Swedish Rye Bread:



2 and 1/2 C milk                                    1 T salt
1/2 C shortening                                    2 pkgs. yeast
1 C corn syrup                                       4 C rye flour
1/2 C dark molasses                              5 C white flour
1/2 t anise seed
1/2 t fennel seed
1/2 t caraway seeds
Heat milk.  Add shortening, molasses, syrup and spices.  When lukewarm, add yeast and salt.  Place the two flours in a bowl, mix, add liquid.  Mix with hands.  Let rise 2 hours.  Knead. Break into 3 sections.  Put in well-greased pans.  Rise until double.  Bake 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes.  Mix 2t corn syrup & 1 T water together and brush over tops after baking.



When I was in college, my mother would send me "care packages" of cookies and other goodies.  One of my favorites was her Potato Chip Cookies.


Here is her recipe for Potato Chip Cookies:



1/2 C butter 
1/2 C margarine
1/2 C sugar
3/4 crushed potato chips
1 and 3/4 C flour
1/2 nuts (optional)
Roll into balls and flatten with fork.  Bake in 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes.



My parents were born in 1908 so they lived through a depression and could remember a time when there were no convenience foods.  Though we enjoyed TV dinners on trays like many families in the 1950's, my mother made most of her food from scratch and without convenience foods.

Later in life my mother started experimenting and when she told me about her Tater Tot Casserole I thought she had lost it.  But it is really good (my aversion to casseroles had changed by then).




Here is her recipe for Tater Tot Casserole:



1 and 1/4 lbs. ground beef (brown a bit)
1 onion sliced over meat
Pour on:
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup plus 1/2 can milk
1 lg. pkg. frozen mixed vegetables (California Blend)
1 can Cream of Onion soup plus 1/2 can milk
Top with Tater Tots (lg. pkg)
Bake 1 and 1/2 hours at 375 degrees (covered 1/2 the time)

(If you want to throw a retro party, this would be a conversation piece!)



When I think back on my childhood, I realize that my parents did not have a lot of money and they didn't believe in overspending on food.  Meals were simple but wholesome and made from scratch. 

Meals were made with love. 

That in and of itself is comforting.


My food fussiness prevailed throughout college. 

But when I moved to San Francisco the day after I graduated, I had an epiphany. 

It occurred to me that it would not be cool to be in a restaurant in Chinatown and order fried chicken, so I decided then and there to eat anything and everything and I have done ever since.  There was no turning back.

I now have gone from the most finicky little girl in Western Michigan to the biggest food snob in Western Washington! 

Did I tell you I am eating my way through all of the fine dining restaurants in Seattle from A-Z?


 
Cheers!


 
 
What are your childhood food memories?

  Were you a finicky eater too?



As I said, these recipes were taken right off the hand-written recipe cards from my Mother's recipe box.  Since cooks in her day worked from memory too, I can't vouch for how well these recipes were documented on her cards. I plan to try them out so will report back.  And you let me know too!

I was inspired to write this blog because of a book I just read "Blue Plate Special" by Kate Christensen, a memoir of the comforts food can bring to a chaotic life.  Check out last week's blog here for more information about it.  It's my new favorite book.

Thanks for reading!  If you enjoyed this post, feel free to subscribe and/or share it with your friends

Don't forget to catch my blog on Friday for my week in reviews and other adventures.



                                           

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