Monday, February 9, 2009


Last night my daughter gave me an essay written by her aunt, my ex-sister-in-law. It was about the foods of her childhood, and it was wonderfully written. It brought back memories of my former-mother-in-law and her prodigious cooking skills: the Christmas goose she prepared one year, and the goose-fat cookies we ate in January; the sauerkraut soup I tried so hard not to be invited over for, only to discover that it was simply delicious; the home-made hamburger buns which were my favorite of all her home-baked breads.

The essay got me to thinking about my childhood foods, so I'm going to piggyback (shamelessly) on Linda's idea and write my own essay on food. With apologies and love to my sweet friend, here's what I remember best:

Potato scones. These were small, rather flat biscuits made of mashed potatoes and flour, cooked in a hot, dry, cast-iron skillet and served with butter and jam. We kids loved them, and rejoiced whenever we found my mother rolling them out. A few years ago I told my mother that all I remembered about those meals were the scones. "What did we have with them?" I asked. "Nothing," she answered. "Scones were what we had when the groceries and the money ran out at the same time."

Oh. Sometimes I suspect that the childhood I remember and the childhood I lived are two different things.

Applesauce. My mother made the best applesauce in the world. She cooked the apples down with cranberries and lots of cinnamon, and used a food mill to remove the peels and puree the sauce. One year she had a serious insulin reaction while we were in the process of making the applesauce and had to be carted off to spend the night in the hospital. While she was gone, my sisters and I - aged ten, eleven, and twelve - finished canning the applesauce. I still remember the look on her face when she saw the jars lined up on the kitchen table. "Did they seal? Did you count the pops?" she asked. "We did, Mom. They all sealed," we assured her.

Autumn soup. This was a soup she made with ground beef, onions, celery, carrots, and potatoes. It was delicious and very satisfying. We liked to line the bottoms of our bowls with saltines and ladle the soup on top, turning the crackers into a delicious mush which still makes my mouth water. I wonder if I have any ground beef in the freezer?

Minced meat. Another ground beef dish, made by browning the meat with onions and then adding water and salt and pepper, and letting the resulting mixture simmer until the water had become a rich broth. It was always served with mashed potatoes and green peas. We stacked the potatoes and peas and spooned the minced meat over the top. My kids love this dish as much as I do, and if I should happen to find ground beef in my freezer, they would expect me to make minced meat and not waste my efforts on autumn soup!

Meat loaf. She made it with ground beef and soda crackers and onions and eggs and lots of catsup, and she always served it with acorn squash and baked potatoes. It was my favorite cold-night supper.

Poached eggs. This was something we got when we were sick with a cold. She poached the eggs in milk, and then poured the eggs and milk over toast, and seasoned the resulting mishmash with salt and lots of black pepper. I've never warmed up to eggs poached in water, but I must have my poached eggs in milk whenever I'm feeling under the weather.

Banana bread. It was moist and dark and sweet as cake. She used to make several loaves, wrap them in foil, and mail them to us when we were away at college. Banana bread was the ultimate cure for homesickness.

I guess the best part of remembering the meals of childhood is remembering the faces and smells and the Saturday-Evening-Post quality of our dinner table. Thanks for sending me on this journey, Linda.

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