Eating food -- 06/04/10
So yesterday I wrote about exercise and physical activity and how much we walked and ran and climbed and played when I was a kid. Bonnie commented that she was surprised that I only mentioned childhood activity and not diet. Come to think of it, since that post had been prompted by reading something about obesity today, especially among kids, I suppose some consideration might be given to food.
Well, as I replied to Bonnie: "Diet? Mom put food in front of us and we ate it."
We had what I think of as being a standard blue collar (non-ethnic, non-Southern) American diet of the 1940s and 1950s. That is, meat and potatoes and vegetables. (Ralphy Parker -- A Christmas Story -- would have felt right at home in our dining room.)
Mom was a good cook (and a fabulous baker) but our meals were not ambitious. There were no television channels devoted to food and cooking in those days. We ate pot roast and stew and pork chops and lamb chops and meatloaf and soup and fried chicken and roast chicken, etc. We lived in a mostly Italian neighborhood but except for spaghetti and meatballs, Italian dishes never made it to our table -- no lasagna or chicken parmagiana or fettucine alfredo. I think Mom would have been interested in expanding our culinary horizons, but I don't think we were ready for that. In the sixties (when Charlie and I had reached adulthood) she did expand and began to make things like quiche.
But, as I said, mostly it was Mom put food in front of us and we ate it... well, except for various quirks. As far as I can recall, I pretty much ate all vegetables that she served (which meant peas, asparagus, brocolli, carrots, corn) but I hated rubarb. (Which was a shame because my father had a very productive rhubarb patch in his garden. I have since tried rhubarb as an adult and I'm afraid I still don't care for it.) I also recall going through a long period of not wanting tomato sauce on my spaghetti. I would put butter (well, actually, margarine) on my spaghetti and put meatballs on my plate next to the spaghetti, but no sauce. I have no explanation for this odd behavior and eventually I out grew it -- well, what happened is that one day I did eat tomato sauce and realized that it was delicious.
As I mentioned recently, springtime would bring shad roe to our table, but that (to us) was basic home comfort food (because of Mom's father being a Hudson River fisherman) rather than some exotic gourmet dish.
Breakfast was usually cereal. Cheerios was a favorite. Back then there was only one kind of Cheerios (although these days there must be at least ten different varieties) and it was probably the most likely kind to be found on our breakfast table, depending, of course, on what kind of special promotion might lead us to beg for a particular brand so we could cut out and put together something from the back of the box or needed three box tops to mail in and get a special toy, etc. When not cereal, breakfast might be eggs (scrambled or fried or soft-boiled) with toast bread (and jelly) or pancakes or waffles. Sometimes we might have real maple syrup, but if we didn't (and that was considered to be fairly expensive) Mom used to make her own pancake syrup that was far better than the store-bought brands. Our nextdoor neighbor had a quince tree in their backyard and they would give Mom the quince fruit and she would make quince jelly (and give our neighbors some jars of it in exchange) and sometimes we would have pancakes with a sweet warm quince syrup (which may simply have been quince jam or jelly that had not yet set?) and it was so delicious. I used to be able to sometimes find quince jelly in supermarkets but have not seen it there in years. These days if I want it I have to go to the county fair and buy it there (or look online and pay a very high price).
Lunch was usually a sandwich (or, in cold weather, soup and sandwich). PBJs were popular -- I always wanted my peanut butter and jelly sandwich to be made with strawberry preserves and my brother always wanted them made with grape jelly. When I was in elementary school I always -- with extremely rare exceptions -- came home for lunch. At one point Mom needed surgery on a leg (for either varicose veins or phlebitis -- I think it was phlebitis but it was long ago and we were young -- I think Charlie was not yet in school and our Aunt Alice watched him during the day while Mom was in the hospital) and Dad made my lunches. He really didn't understand the strawberry vs. grape jelly preferences and I was wise enough not to complain (despite my displeasure). I think that was when I decided that I wanted to try the school lunch one of those days. Yuck! I never ate school cafeteria food again until my freshman year of college.