Friday, August 20, 2010
TO COOK OR NOT TO COOK: IS THAT THE QUESTION?
Probably I have mentioned in other blogs that my mother was not a good cook, which came about, I suppose, because she didn’t like to eat. She often noted that she was waiting for the day when it would be possible to take a pill in lieu of eating a meal. But in spite of her attitude, she did eat enough to keep herself healthy; she had a meal on the table every time it was called for, and we didn’t go out to dinner much.
In reflecting back on the food of my childhood, I have to laugh at the kind of food we considered standard dinner fare. Mother was terrified of trichinosis, so even though it was primarily associated with pork and rendered harmless by thorough cooking, mother believed all meat should be cooked until it assumed the consistency of shoe leather. There was no such thing as a rare steak in our house. Meat was dry, tough and tasteless, but according to her at least it was safe to eat. Fish was treated the same way. The only fish we ever had was sea bass, and if it hadn’t been slathered in tarter sauce, none of us would have been able to swallow it because it was so dry.
Mother knew how to make three kinds of salad. The first was a lettuce and tomato salad. Lettuce was chopped, tomatoes were chopped, both were thrown into a bowl and mixed with mayonnaise. The second was a wedge of lettuce with a dollop of mayo, ketchup and relish mix on the top of it. The last type of salad was red jello with a can of fruit cocktail suspended in it. I didn’t know there were any other kinds of salad until I went off to college.
We rarely had any kind of a casserole. What we did have probably came from the type of recipes printed in magazine advertisements for certain food products. Mother’s favorite was Franco-American Spaghetti. She browned a pound of ground round in a big frying pan and as soon as it was cooked thoroughly she dumped two cans of Franco-American Spaghetti into it and stirred it until it was heated throughout. Then she served it. She made it often because it was easy to do, and we ate it week after week throughout our childhood. My sis and I thought this WAS spaghetti and the way everybody made it. Learning it was not was a big surprise to both of us, and through our adult years we often laughed at what passed for spaghetti at our house.
The last “special” my mother made also must have come from a magazine recipe. We were brought up in the era of Velveeta Cheese. Eggplant was one of the few vegetables mother enjoyed. Dipped in egg and bread crumbs and then fried in butter (yes, we used butter, not margarine) was a staple, as well as a favorite of us kids. However, at some point Velveeta Cheese came into the picture. Mother read that by putting a large slab of Velveeta cheese between two cooked eggplant slices, she could cut down on all the breading time, so we never again had the lovely breaded eggplant. We now were served her favorite “eggplant sandwiches,” thick with gooey Velveeta cheese that all but stuck to our throats as we tried to swallow it.
So mother’s lack of interest in food and lack of talent in cooking led to three things. Firstly, celebrations of holidays in our house never centered around the dinner table, nor were there any Sunday dinners; food was a non-issue. Secondly, over the years my father assumed more and more control over the cooking, and he was a darn good cook. And finally, my sister, my brother and I all ended up becoming very interested in food – its preparation, its presentations, and its possibilities – and we all expanded our girths considerably from all the good eating we were able to produce. None of us stayed slim and trim like our parents did. Messing around with food and enjoying the process is not good on the waistline.
At least eventually we all got our weight under control, and for myself, as I’ve gotten older the idea of spending lots of time in the kitchen has waned considerably.
Luckily good memories don’t depend upon good food. We may not have had such delicacies as other families did, but we certainly do have good memories of growing up in the Dobbins family household, cooking skills notwithstanding.