When I was a youngster in America, we weren’t particularly well-off. I don’t remember much of the food my mother cooked for us though she must have had a range of items. She wasn’t a stay-at-home mum as she was studying to become an architect from about 1951 onwards but I do remember a few of the items, mainly those that I disliked!
Chipped beef. Does it still exist in the US? We possibly had it (on toast) several times a month. For those of you who are not in the know about chipped beef, it came as thin slivers of dried beef in a packet. Our mother would make a sauce, or buy one, perhaps, to which she would add the chipped beef pieces and heat the whole thing through. I ate it because I was hungry but it was never something I liked.
Vegetables were always tinned or frozen, never fresh, in our house, though I do remember as a small child going out in the car with my great-grandmother’s carer and cousin, Herminnie, for a drive into the country to a pea-farm’ on the odd Sunday afternoon and buying fresh peas in their pods. I don’t know if we were ever given any or whether we went home, ‘pea-less’.
Although peas, beans, spinach, corn etc were always frozen or tinned in my mother’s house, we did have fresh onions and potatoes. The onions would be used in things like a spaghetti sauce (a type of bolognaise sauce without the fancy name) and the potatoes would be boiled, baked or mashed – we never had chips (french fries) at home but looked upon them as a special treat for when we went to the local Big Boy drive in.
There were several vegetables that my mother would serve from tins and which I found disgusting – namely okra. I don’t know what it was about those little chunks of green though nowadays I still find it revolting because of the slime inside the fresh okra finger. We had beets, in those days, from a tin and warmed up. Nowadays, in the UK, I would never think of having hot beetroot on the dinner plate. I believe we also had asparagus from a tin and it wasn’t until about ten years ago that I discovered the delights of fresh asparagus!
Other tinned foods I wasn’t too keen on were spaghetti in tomato sauce and chicken noodle soup. I think that was because the pasta (an unknown word in 1950’s Cincinnati) was lying for days, weeks or months in a bath of either tomato sauce or chicken broth and so lost any ‘bite’. (I didn’t know the name or concept of ‘al dente’ but just knew soft noodles that could be ‘gummed’ rather than bitten, just weren’t right!)
Baked beans. I never had baked beans straight from the tin in America! Our mother always fried some onions and added the baked beans to the skillet (frying pan) with a spoonful of brown sugar and a bit of vinegar. Those, I liked! Today I can take or leave baked beans from the tin and certainly can’t be bothered to make the dish my mother made. (I doubt if Julian would like them as much as he likes baked beans, cold and straight from the tin!)
About three or four times a year we would go to my grandmother’s house for a week or so – and in the years before that, to my great grandmother’s). There we would be served wonderful exotic (to us) foods, like roast lamb, twice baked potatoes with cheese and even, once in a while, roast beef. Any left-over meat would be ground up and made into a sandwich spread with finely chopped onion and mayonnaise for the next day and spread thickly onto soft white bread.
At my great-grandmother’s house we often had Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner with all the family round her huge dining table. The turkey was always wonderful with plenty of stuffing and, as a side dish, always mashed sweet potatoes which had been cooked by putting it into the oven with a covering of white (never pink!) marshmallows. I know that Brits think this would be disgusting, but it wasn’t.
One more thing (I’ve got to cook dinner in a mo!). Chocolate fudge. Herminnie (see above) was a very large lady who quite obviously liked her food. Once in a while she would go into my great-grandmother’s huge kitchen and make a pan full of chocolate fudge. The bit I remember about those special times was when she would take a little spoonful of the molten mixture and drop it into a teacup of cold water. This would tell her whether it was ready to be poured out onto a buttered plate. I never understood the process until I was a grown-up, in those now long ago days when I made jam and more lately, when I, too, made chocolate fudge. Nowadays, if I were to feel it necessary for me to put on a few pounds (ha ha), I would make fudge and test its readiness using a sugar thermometer. I have a feeling that I haven’t actually made chocolate fudge since some time before we moved to Broadstairs but I might just make a plate full sometime soon! One thing to say about the fudge Herminnie, and I, made is that it’s not like English fudge. English fudge is soft and – dare I say – claggy (look it up, American readers); Herminnie and Candy fudge is (to me) indescribably better. It has a slightly hard surface underneath which is pure chocolate heaven!