My dad was a merchant marine. I’m now wondering if that is a reason for my mom wanting to cook foods from all over the world. Before my parents divorced mom cooked stuff like sauerbraten (I remember this especially because I really hated the taste of it). There were Japanese foods and recipes from France. The favorite thing I did like was her Italian spaghetti.
I do wish I’d saved her recipes for me to start dinner after the divorce and before all the moving began. For meatloaf the recipe told me all about onions, salt, pepper, garlic mooshed together. After mooshing, I was to “pat the shit out of it” to make it into a loaf. Italian spaghetti recipe told me to put “some” of this, that, and other. The last line read, “And don’t call me at work to ask how much. Just put ‘some’ in.” Not realizing that simmering the sauce made the taste, I called anyway. I was in tears because after putting “some” in, it didn’t taste like hers.
I still have the recipe for turkey and dressing. The directions are mostly the same with the word “some” throughout, and “balled” eggs, and “wildering the onions and celery”. Last line reads, “If the dressing turns green, you’ve put in too much sage. Prepare to drink lots of water.”
My learning to cook was a true experience.
When dad was home I’d trek with him to Kemah to meet the shrimp boats when they came in. You can’t do that today as the pier has been turned into a boardwalk complete with a ferris wheel. Then, we’d meet the boats and bring home flounder, two ice chests full of shrimp, crab, and whatever else struck his fancy. (I remember a lobster crawling out of the pot of boiling water (or perhaps, he didn’t quite make it into the pot), me jumping on top of the dishwasher, while mom chased the lobster across the kitchen with a pair of tongs.) I think dad grew up never having enough food – he was a child of the Great Depression as was mom.
I did enjoy the cheese. Dad would bring a couple of five pound “wheel” blocks of cheese with a red rind from Holland (I think). But there was the time he brought home two cases of anchovies. I detest anchovies to this day because dad thought they should be cooked with everything – think mom’s delicious Italian spaghetti with anchovies. Oh my gosh! I did like peanut butter and grape jelly on toast (sorta cooking – from a certain perspective), too.
Post divorce, I remember lot’s of beans and rice. I didn’t like beans, and rice was so cheap we always had plenty of that crap. (I recall a bowl of chili being all a’splatter on the wall above the sink “predivorce”. Dad kept trying to make me eat chili with beans and I was in tears. Finally, mom took care of the bean problem telling dad, “She told you that she doesn’t like damn beans in her chili.” The beans were always cooked separate from the chili, and you could add them if you wanted beans.) Beans and rice, beans and rice, and more beans and rice. When the beans ran out, it was rice and gravy. Thank goodness when the rice ran out because we had bread and gravy. I think I could eat almost anything (except anchovies and rice) with enough gravy.
A special treat was sugared skillet toast for dessert. Mom would color the sugar with food coloring. During those years I came to enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mom always found a way to afford turkey and dressing with all the trimmings. We’d have enough left overs for a week or so. She’d put the food into tin pans, put another tin pan on top, and place in the oven to heat it. When heated, she’d say, “Let’s eat in front of the TV. We have TV dinners.”
Things were difficult even after I was grown. I made my own way. I have loved the story of Jekyll and Hyde all my life since reading it. When the stage production came out, mom bought us tickets to see it. I took frozen shrimp, fishsticks, and whatever other seafood I found in the frozen food section for an after play dinner. Upon opening the bag I’d brought, Mom said, “Oh look, you brought seafood platters.”
Mom had a unique way of finding enjoyment in the smallest of things.
Who knew that food would bring back so many memories?
Thanks for the trek to the past.