Sunday, April 8, 2012


I think you have to be of a certain age to understand what I’m talking about when I say “Harvard beets.” And I have to admit that the disconnect in my own family comes because I don’t believe I ever fixed Harvard beets for my sweet little children. I asked hubby Jerry if he liked them and he’d never heard of them, which I’m sure is because for his family the role of beets was exclusively in cold beet borsch. This week at Ralph’s market I bought a can of sliced beets and I’m going to introduce Jer to them. (For those of you who don’t know, Harvard beets simply have a “sweet and sour” (read vinegar and sugar) sauce on them and are served warm. They are yummy, but of course one must like beets to begin with. I think for the most part, beets are a non-starter with young people.

Another sweet and sour type food that I think has mostly disappeared is watermelon rind pickles. Didn’t your mother ever make them while you were growing up? These are the only things my mother ever “canned” – and she did so because they didn’t require a full-blown canning process, of which my mother was deathly afraid of, but instead these watermelon rind pickles could, after preparation, stay in the fridge for enough time for the jar’s contents to be downed. They went fast, served as a side dish at meals and as snacks right out of the jar. It’s been suggested that they were developed during the depression as a way to utilize every scrap of food available, but I think that is not so. And as a funny aside, I remember my dad, the family’s appointed watermelon thumper, going from melon to melon in the produce market, thumping each one for the perfect sound, and then paying 2 cents per pound for the perfect melon.

Many things I grew up eating are now a part of history. Our family always had toast for breakfast. Each member of our family had a type of bread they wanted used. When my sis and I were little, to keep peace in the household my mother one week had to buy my sister’s favorite bread (Wonder Bread, because Wonder Bread was a sponsor of the radio program Lone Ranger, my sister’s favorite cowboy), and the next week she had to buy Langendorf Bread, which was the sponsor of the program “Red Ryder,” my favorite cowboy. Now seeing as that was over 65 years ago, I may have the sponsors connected to the wrong program, but you’ll get the point.

My mother and dad also had their own favorite breads, which we always kept in the house and which as we kids got older we learned to eat. Mother’s favorite was Hollywood Bread. Now I’ve looked on the internet to find a picture of the bread I remember – and I don’t find anything remotely resembling my recollection. The bread was very dark brown, with a crust scattered with sesame seeds. The loaf was smaller than the traditional white breads, smaller, thinner slices that toasted up perfectly. The internet shows some diet bread called Hollywood Bread and indicates it was from Hollywood, Florida. I do not know if this was Southern California’s Hollywood Bread; again, I would guess not, but memories are faulty and mother was skinny as a rail, so I’m thinking maybe what we ate in the 1940s and early ‘50s was something different. I’d buy a loaf or two today if I could find an exact replica.

But my father’s favorite took the cake! We called it “stinky bread” because when someone popped it in the toaster, the family would almost have to vacate the premises because it smelled so awful. It was the famous Van de Kamp’s “Salt-Rising Bread.” None of us liked it as sandwich bread, but it was nonpareil as toast. That smell definitely did not transfer to taste. Oh, that bread was so good. I was able to find it in the stores until about 20 years ago, but alas, I do believe it is gone for good. I see recipes on the internet for it, but as a non-baker I’d never go to the trouble of making it; my attempts over the years to make ordinary bread have sealed my fate. I can only remember, and drool.

Those of you who have read my earlier blogs will remember that I said my mother was a notoriously untalented cook. Her idea of spaghetti was a pound of ground chuck and some onion browned in a skillet with two cans of Franco-American spaghetti stirred into it. Her idea of salad was chopped iceberg lettuce and chopped tomato with mayonnaise stirred in. You get the picture.

However, there was one item she kept trying to make – something that she had eaten in the past and wanted oh so badly to duplicate – but alas (or perhaps thank goodness) she never was able to perfect her skills. And that was Philadelphia scrapple. She always told us that it included pork and cooked cream of wheat. Whatever else went into it ultimately ended up in a loaf, which was baked. Slices of the scrapple were fried and served at breakfast with eggs. Somehow my sister and I learned that what we later knew to be called “Head cheese” was involved and we refused to ever take a bite. Mother couldn’t get anyone to help her finish eating the loaf, as it looked most unappealing and if one read the label on the head cheese package it truly WAS inedible by southern California standards. So that went by the wayside, too. It was certainly far worse than her spaghetti.

And finally there were a few canned items that were always in our cupboard that I haven’t seen or thought of it many years: Kadota figs and canned grapefruit slices. The Kadota figs were difficult to eat, as the skin of the figs were hairy and scratchy and the tiny seeds lurked between your teeth and your gums for weeks. When mother served it, we were required to eat it, and although the taste was pretty good, the "feel" of it in one's mouth was just horrible.

The canned grapefruit slices initially weren’t bad, but mother craved them when she got pregnant with my little brother and they were the only things she could keep down, so we had them every morning for breakfast for about 8-1/2 months. I don’t know if either of these canned items are on any store shelves now, but I’m telling you that I’d turn my head and avert my eyes if I ever thought I was going to see canned grapefruit slices, even after all these years (my brother turns 63 this year.)

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