Thursday, July 29, 2010

Recipe for remembering

We were watching the new Hell's Kitchen spinoff the other night and this lady had brussell sprouts with bread crumbs and I started down memory lane again. There are many things that we used to eat when I was young... and some of them I would never eat again.

The brussell sprout thing...My Mother fancied herself quite a cook, although my brother and I might question that. Anyway, she got this recipe for brussell sprouts and they were cooked and then rolled around in seasoned breadcrumbs. She probably made it first for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. She loved it and made it over and over and over. As far as we were concerned, it smelled awful and tasted worse. When I left home, I left brussell sprouts behind.

Saturday nights we ate baked beans and brown bread. It was usually B&M. Once in a while my Mother "doctored up" the beans and baked them in the deep well. I'm not sure how it worked but a deep well was a big deep pot that set down inside the stove, where a burner would be, so only the lid was visible. Brown bread came in a can and you cut off both ends and as you pushed it out you sliced it using the can top as a guide. Daddy would fry up leftovers to have with his eggs for Sunday breakfast.

The exception to this was in the summertime. Our next door neighbor was a lobster fisherman and we had lobster every Saturday in season. Mostly they were chicks which were small but legal to catch and often they had only one claw. I didn't know we got the rejects and certainly never realized that lobster was a luxury to most people. While we would eat, my Father would disect his lobster. Not a scrap would pass his lips until every possible edible piece of lobster was extracted from the shell and placed on his plate. This included spreading the roe and tamale on saltine crackers. I never would eat that but did learn to scavenge every morsel of lobster meat, cleaning out the shells and sucking the meat out of the legs and tail fins. Before we were married, my husband wanted to really impress me with dinner. He ran a New England Oyster House at the time. He cooked lobster for me, but not for him as he wouldn't eat it. Much later, he told me that he almost had second thoughts about our relationship when he saw me savagely attacking dinner.

When I was little, I was sick a lot. My Mother attributed it to the fact that I got German measles when I was a baby and nearly died. A while later, I had whooping cough for over a year. The deep well got plenty of use then as she would make bread pudding (yuck) all the time. She would put jelly on top to get me to eat it. Bread pudding, tapioca, and I don't remember what else of similar consistency that was supposed to be good for me to eat. Every now and then I see a great recipe for bread pudding but I just can't bring myself to make it because of those memories.

When I was five I went to a Catholic school. Some students boarded. If my parents went off for a weekend or whatever, they would have me stay at school with the boarders. My only food recollection was that we ate at really long tables and always had cocoa (with scum on the top) in the morning and macaroni and cheese. Surely we didn't eat mac and cheese for lunch and dinner every day, but I don't remember anything else!

Another dinner staple my Mother served was sausage. It was what we call breakfast sausage links now, but we never ate it for breakfast. We ate it for dinner with applesauce and mashed potatoes. I had no idea where that combination came from but it showed up weekly on the dinner table. Searching the internet, it does come close to an Irish recipe for sausages, applesauce and colcannon (mashed cabbage and potatoes). As my grandparents were from Ireland, it was probably something my parents grew up eating.

We were a Catholic family and you ate fish on Friday. I hated fish. It smelled bad. It tasted bad. I rebelled and as a teenager would eat a can of tuna for dinner. Tuna, out of the can, as is. Somehow I can't quite get a handle on that. As an adult, I love fish and tuna out of the can smells bad!

We often stayed at the beach in the summer. My Father would get up early and take a pail down to the boat docks where he would get fresh caught herring, which look kind of like sardines. He would bring them back and put them whole under the broiler and that would be his breakfast. No one else even got near those, let alone eat them!

We had another neighbor who grew asparagus and rhubarb. There you go again...who knew the luxury status of those two things. Certainly not us. Right up there with lobster. Years later, both those things were too expensive to find their way to the table very often. I do remember though that my Mother would never break off the asparagus properly because, of course, it was so expensive and we would be forced to eat the woody ends. The same held true for broccoli. Heaven forbid you wasted anything, even if it was inedible.

I ate Ranger Joe's for breakfast. The cereal came in a big plastic bag and was some kind of puffed rice. Tasted like, well... spongy air. When you put milk on it, it would get soggy in no time. Daddy ate shredded wheat. It came in a box with dividers that were Injun Joe cards. The company tried to market it to kids by having these collector cards in the boxes. Never happen! The cereal was this big, fat square thing that tasted like cardboard and looked like something you would feed to farm animals. Sometimes my Father would pour hot water on it first to soften it up and then add milk and sugar. Thank heaven for Sundays when we would drive to the donut shop for crullers and donut holes.

For a long time we would switch off Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner with my Aunt Mary's family. We lived in Massachusetts and they lived in Connecticut. She always served rutabaga. Awful, awful, can't even describe the smell and the taste and you had to eat it. The last time I ate it there was the last time I ate it, period.

School lunches were the same thing on the same day week after week. One of them was green beans, spaghetti and french bread with peanut butter. Somewhere I'm sure there was a dietician who had figured out the proper ratio of food groups, using the available food, to come up with this combination. To me, it was just plain weird. You didn't eat vegetables with spaghetti and you most certainly didn't put peanut butter on french bread. My Mother was notorious for the same thing on the same day also. She would come up with something new and then it would just fold into the rotation. If it's Tuesday, it must be eggplant parmagianno...until you never wanted to see another eggplant again! But then, I remembered the commercial about "Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day". Maybe everybody ate the same thing on the same day every week! You can see the commercial from the 50's, on You Tube, if you look up "Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day- a classic".


  1. A completely delightful post. I loved your walk through history. And through the dinner table.

  2. Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it.