Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Things We Ate

I'm starving tonight. I just came off a stomach flu and didn't eat at all yesterday and tonight, although I've eaten 5 times, I'm still hungry so I thought I should talk about the food we ate in Wenonah.
It was horrible. It was regular. For breakfast every day my mother made us Tang and we had pop tarts. Before pop tarts we ate Frosted Flakes or Cocoa Krispies, or Rice Krispies, or Corn Flakes but it all sucked. Then for lunch we had sandwiches made from this fake ham. I can't remember the name but it will come to me by the end of this post. We drank milk with every meal except after Memorial Day when we had iced tea until Labor Day. Then it was back to milk.
At dinner we had a succession of dull dishes. Tuna casseroles every Friday (we were Catholic), frozen beef in frozen sauce, chicken croquettes, lima beans.
Lima beans.
The cursed vegetable of my youth. My brother Mick may have vomited up lima beans on at least twelve occasions. And we had no dog to feed the food we hated to under the table. It was eat or die. Once a week my mother would make a dish we liked, say cheese steak sandwiches. She would make eight cheese steak sandwiches for six people. Which meant if you were hungry you had to eat fast to get one of the two left over sandwiches. It was a race to hell. Sometimes I won, sometimes Mick won. Ted always lost.
My father loved chipped beef on toast. I have no idea why he felt this was a good thing to eat. But my mother loved him so we ate it. And we had spaghetti. From a can. Not spaghetti O's but close. When I got to college and had to make my first meal for my roomates I went to make spaghetti with Ragu and my roomate Shelley corrected me. She said, no, this is how you make spaghetti sauce. I had to learn how to cut onions and peppers. I learned that there is a thing called a garlic clove.
Some of this was because we weren't well off. My mother had to struggle to make ends meet. This was something I was unaware of at the time. Some of it was because my mother was a lousy cook. She was. A lousy cook.
My grandmother Glading, Nonny Glading, was on the other hand a great cook. She made us meals each weekend that were marvelous. Truly stunning. Fresh ingredients, meat from the butcher, cooked slow and with care. We had Yorkshire Pudding and roasts that were ungodly. Then we went home to honey loaf. That was the name of the fake ham. Honey loaf. Call it what you want but it was fake ham. Not ham on the sandwiches at Nonny's house carved off the ham with mayo and mustard and crusty bread.
My Nonny Wiler, while she didn't cook, served great meals as well. The best roasts I've ever had. Rich and full of flavor. I've never had a roast beef like she served...ever. We sopped the blood up from the cutting board on pieces of white bread with butter. That's the one thing on all my tables when I was young. A loaf of white bread. A pitcher of milk. A quarter pound of butter.
But all of them, my mother, my grandmothers, my uncles could roast Turkeys. They all knew how to make stuffing. They all knew how to fill us up one day in November with food that made you sleepy and happy. And at the end we had Breyer's ice cream with Creme de minthe and sat back happy. The last pieces of mince pie sitting on our plates. Too tired to argue. Too happy to fight. Years later I had the opportunity to serve Christmas and Thanksgiving meals like those. They are and were a gift. Whether you make them or eat at them. I ate with friends in Staten Island one Thanksgiving and they served LeSeour brand baby peas just like my mother and my grandmother, and they had creamed onions, and there was some dumb ass squash soup but who cared. There was cranberry sauce and wine and beer and people laughing.
So the food was lousy but we fought over those cheese steaks. My mother made iced tea from scratch. The mashed potatoes were on every table, with or without gravy. My brothers and I were arguing. We fought and fought and yelled and we sat together every day at dinner. Like a family.
Yesterday I made barbequed chicken for my friends Oscar and Douglas and Louisa and Frank and Johanna. They made beans with jamon and rice and drank Corona and laughed and smoked weed and I went to bed early with the flu. Could you ask for more?

1 comment:

Bob Thomas said...

Fresh sweet corn of South Jersey, jersey tomatoes, peaches, apples - didn't your family ever stop by a farm stand?