Sunday, February 18, 2007

Food memories we'd rather forget

Part of making memories with food is that, like in life, there are sure to be some that are not so good, and since making memories with food was one of the drivers for starting this blog, I decided that sharing a few of those... and encouraging you to share yours would make for a fun post (and a run-on sentence).

I have already shared my own cooking disasters, but I am not talking about our own culinary mis-steps, but things from our past that were part of our diet, that we couldn't wait to grow up and get rid of. For many of us it will be things like Spaghetti-Os or Minute Rice, that were food trends of the past. It may be family traditional favorites that you did not want to incorporate into your reperatoire. I want to share a couple of mine with you and then encourage you to share as well. Somehow I know I will hear some interesting (and humorous) tales.

My first story is about my sister-in-law and a country ham. Ginger was having a holiday reception and had a whole menu planned including country ham biscuits (a staple here in the South!) - sounds good so far, right? For those of you who are not from the South, country ham is a salt-cured ham that is soaked and cooked to remove some of the salt and then sliced very thin as you would prosciutto and served. Well when the night of the event came, the table was beautifully set, with the ham biscuits as a centerpiece. Sure that these would disappear very quickly (it is the South, you know!), I grabbed a few of the delicious-looking biscuits, and began to make my rounds. As I took the first bite, I knew why there was such a pile of biscuits left untouched... My sister-in-law had simply cooked the ham without soaking or boiling so that the taste was something like eating a handful of kosher salt (actually, saltier!). She was mystified that time after time she had to refill the punchbowl(she later commented that people were drinking so much it affected their appetites!), and the drinkables ran out far before the ham did. And you know what? No one had the courage to tell her! Well-meaning guests continued to take biscuits and then deposit them in the trash or some were even hidden in potted plants (found the next day!)Note: In her defense, Ginger was generally a good cook and the rest of her food that night was very good. We just all had to be reconstituted the next day.

I thought I had heard about every misguided attempt at saving money on food until I had a conversation with my former boss about his mother's cooking when he was growing up in Basel, Switzerland (I'm thinking linzer torte and chocolate!). He regaled us with the story of how his mother would take leftover salad and make it into a lettuce soup, a tasteless, greenish broth with lots of unidentified "floaties" in it. I have actually thought of threatening my kids with this if they don't eat their salad, but given that this bad food memory still stays with my 76-year-old friend, I thought the better of it. Note: Food can also be used as an instrument of torture- In all the years we worked together any time we had an office pot luck Hermann would threaten to bring in beef tongue, another dish he remembered fondly from his youth! Needless to say, we told him to bring the paper goods!

With 32 years of marriage, you can be sure there is lots of compromise involved and some of that involves food. To come up with your own family's food style you have to take the best of both your food histories. In our case, I incorporated my mother-in-law's stuffing (I have posted this incredible recipe), and her coconut cream Easter Eggs (this one will be coming) into our food traditions. From my mom, her macaroni and cheese,"mess of beans" and cole slaw recipes are ones my family always asks for. However, there are some things that become so ingrained in you that you need to break free of. My mom used to make Navy beans quite often (my dad loved them with mustard!) and it has been only recently that I can incorporate bean dishes back into our diet. And my mother-in-law used to make a ground beef dish... all the time... that I can no longer bring myself to make. It was not a bad dish (patties of ground beef with american cheese in the center covered with tomato sauce),it just suffered from over-exposure, a lot like Paris Hilton. Maybe one of these days I will make these "grenades"(my husband's term, not mine) for my kids to let them make up their own minds as to whether they want them to be part of their own developing food traditions.
So just like you remember the time your mom lost you in the department store, or how your Uncle Al drank too much at Christmas dinner, we collect bad food memories as well. Which is why you should play with your food- to make sure that you have created enough good memories to outweigh the bad! Let me know your darkest food memories... you will realize you are not alone, and can move on to develop your own fabulous food style!



2 comments:

Sorcha said...

Ooh, she had the dry-cure ham.

I remember my grandmother, whom I lived with for several years, would cook okra. Not fried, mind - she'd just boil it and put it in a bowl on the table, looking like a lump of green slugs and smelling like vegetable death. Grammaw was and is a terrific cook, but either she really just liked the boiled okra or she didn't feel like futzing around with frying it.

s'kat said...

Isn't that the truth!

My Mom's first and last foray into gardening was with eggplants. Normally, she has a black thumb, but these thrived and soon covered the entire plot of earth!

We had eggplant everyday for what seemed like forever. It's only been in the past few years that I was even able to attempt eating eggplant again.

thanks for the memories!