Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What's in a name? Part I

While I was growing up it was not lost upon me how a family is somewhat subject to the abilities, preferences, and willingness of the chief cook (Mom, Dad, hired or otherwise) to accommodate the various and varying sets of taste buds represented by each family member.

My Mom had a deep seated fear of making somebody ill with her cooking. She simultaneously felt nutritionally bound by her training as a nurse to offer us a colorful variety of foods. Her unexplained fear of undercooking combined with that determination to offer variety laid the groundwork for her lifelong tendency to shop the canned and frozen aisles preferentially over the produce section.

Mom was similarly resolute in her determination to cook every steak or chop served in our home past the point of done, stopping just short of rendering everything into jerky. Pioneer atavism, I have no idea. I just know we never had any protein with any juices running out of it, clear, pink or otherwise.

Meanwhile my Dad had a bleeding ulcer which in those days meant he was on doctor's orders not to eat foods that were spicy, fried, fatty, or remotely interesting in any way.He refused to eat uncooked tomatoes, (Mom's favorite) claiming he was required to eat too many tomatoes while in Panama in WW2 where, according to his version of the story, tomatoes were forced upon the troops to prevent scurvy.[It could be true. My father in law (photo above) made a similar claim sourcing his refusal to eat cooked beans as resulting from his being required to cook and eat too many while an Army quartermaster in Europe and later, supervising meals prepared for the troops and their families in Occupied Japan.]

My little brother wouldn't willingly eat any vegetable with the exception of fried potatoes (which we couldn't have at home, thank you ulcer diet!) and cucumbers. My brother's cucumbers, a stand in for the nightly salads offered the rest of us, had to be peeled, sliced into rounds (no spears) and should be salted, but never peppered. No dressing need apply. Any additions or subtractions to his plate and those crisp rounds would sit untouched.
(photo credit:Kitchen Confit)
Did my mother ever find herself rinsing my brother's cucumber slices off after accidentally combining them with everything else in the bowl holding the salad prepared for the rest of the family? Yes, yes she did. Did I ever try to trick my little brother by carefully rinsing one side of his designated slices off while leaving microscopic traces of salad dressing on the side placed facing the plate? Maybe. Only for strictly scientific purposes though. Not because I was mean or frustrated that he got special treatment all the time.

Clearly I cannot be expected to objectively confess all my own peculiarities. I did eat crusts on my sandwiches (unlike my little brother!) although for years I had to eat the crusts first, separately, so I could then fully enjoy the rest of my sandwich.

I asked for the same bologna sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise, iceberg lettuce and a side of potato chips for lunch every day throughout 4th Grade. That was followed by Buddig corned beef with mustard and bell pepper on wheat along with a bag of Fritos for lunch all of 5th Grade. Sixth grade I insisted on buying my lunch in the cafeteria.

I admit I didn't willingly eat peas or green beans at home, although when I mistakenly volunteered the information I liked green beans the way they fixed them at school my Mom surprised me by reacting angrily when I'd thought she'd be pleased at how adventurous I was. I had to be coerced to eat carrots or celery cooked into things although I liked both raw.
Then there was this one epic months-long battle of wills over Veg-All succotash that has me assiduously avoiding anything with that name to this day.

My outright refusal to chew and seeming inability to swallow the vegetable medley took on monumental proportions. At one point my Father took me aside and sternly informed me that although he loved me very much, my Mother was his Sweetheart, and as such, he would take me down without a second thought if I didn't quit giving her fits over clearing my plate whenever succotash appeared.I remember the shock of considering my Mother as anybody's Sweetheart. Honestly, it had never occurred to me prior to my father's comment that my parents ever meant anything to each other. I'd never even imagined them as more than just parents.

I don't honestly recall how it all ended. Maybe I was eventually given a pass on the Veg-All, maybe my Mom quit trying to serve it. But the scar had formed and the aversion stands.

Oh, succotash. Now an emotionally loaded word, it even sounds gross to my ears. While I have subsequently learned to enjoy all the component vegetables typically featured in succotash separately, combine them and call it "succotash" and you've sent me packing.

Handicapped so, it was no wonder the topic of Mom's cooking for our family table had become contentious. When I watched Cher as Rachel Flax carefully compiling the hors d'ouevre trays in the movie Mermaids, there was a frisson of recognition.That was my Mom! She loved us. She loved entertaining and she loved eating with us, she just didn't enjoy cooking for us and being the one responsible for providing everybody with something they liked to eat.

Time passes as does the "who will make dinner?" baton. Please check back in a few days for more on that in "What's in a name, Part II". In the meantime, tell me please.

How did family meal times go when you were growing up? All sweetness and light? Was everybody supposed to eat the same things every night or were there exceptions made? Where there any predilections or diagnoses that dictated what you would or would not see at the table? Any budding vegetarians in the mix? Your turn to share.....


Iris said...

I don't remember my mother making different things for different family members. But maybe that was because we knew we were expected to eat the meal she had prepared and didn't dare act too finicky. She and my father were and still are good family cooks. However, I specifically remember how much I hated liver with onions (always served on a Thursday for some reason) and was certainly allowed to drown it in ketchup and leave a few bites. Not without the "don't you know there are starving children in..." chiding. Okay, that was probably more than you wanted to know.

texasdeb said...

Thanks, Iris, always good to have you weigh in.

Neither my Mom or Dad were particularly good in the kitchen although clearly nobody starved at our house.

My Mom didn't like liver herself or I'd have been in the same boat, and maybe even on the same evening. We typically had a rotation week to week that rarely varied much. Thursdays were spaghetti for us.