I assumed everyone ate like my family when I was a kid. (I don’t mean manners, scripture, prayers and table setting. This is about actual food). I didn’t think a favorite, familiar dish of mom’s was unusual. Or odd even. I grew up in a small town in northwest Iowa (predominantly Dutch) and thought every woman in town used the same brands, bought the same meats and cooked exactly like my mom.
My first inkling that not all foods were served (or even offered) the same in Rock Valley was discovered when I was in junior high. One of my close friends came from a much larger family. Her mom was a good cook (mine was too) but Char’s mom definitely cooked different than mine. Their clan was basically a 2 family home. Char’s mom and dad had several kids, waited a decade, then had another 4 girls, bam-bam-bam-bam. The second bam of the second batch was my bestie Char. Her house/family life was the complete opposite of mine.
By then, we had lost Larry, Mona was married, thus making me like an only child. Char’s household (the older kids were long gone with families of their own) had one in high school, Char in junior high and 2 younger sisters in elementary. A couple of the first group moved away but one older sister lived within a few miles. She and her family (she had a couple kids by then) came over to her parents every Sunday night for supper. Nearly every week I weaseled my way in for a supper invite too. Really how much work is it to feed one extra kid? There was so much activity at their house, they barely noticed me. My house was very quiet in comparison.
We were all headed for the evening church/youth group services so everyone was expected to pitch in to get the table cleared and kitchen cleaned up (even me, who did absolutely nothing to help in the kitchen at my own house). Char’s mom always cooked great meals on Sunday nights. Most times there were 11 or 12 of us. One of her best meals was roast beef and mashed potatoes. I know there was a vegetable and always dessert but it was the mashed potatoes I remember. She mashed potatoes in her mixer! What? With milk and butter (duh, a given) but those spuds were as smooth as pudding. My mom would never get her stand mixer out and mess it up for mashed potatoes. Ever. Our mashed potatoes were thicker and had a few lumps, (but they were good). It’s the way I’ve eaten them my whole life. But I will never forget watching Char’s mom dump a huge, hot pot of potatoes into her mixer and whip those suckers smooth as a baby’s butt. (Maybe not the best way to describe her mashed potatoes). She also made twice baked potatoes to die for, using the same method. Dug out the potato insides, keeping the potato peel intact and whipping the spuds in her mixer. Then plopping a good sized dollop back in the peel and baked ’em a second time. Dang she was a good cook. I’m eternally grateful for joining their family as often as they let me.
This old memory popped up from a comment on my last story about my poor Mom who got lost frequently because she wasn’t good with directions (try hopeless). The comments were about us shopping at a fabulous department store in Sioux City. First Ray asked if Mom and I ever ate at the restaurant in Younkers? About 99% of the time we went to a fabulous place called Bishop’s Cafeteria. I remember Younkers candy counter but the actual restaurant in the store, no. Then Glenda commented she’s been trying to duplicate Younkers Mac & Cheese recipe for 50 years, without much success.
That’s when it hit me. We never had Mac & cheese when I was a kid. Ever. It was not on Mom’s food repertoire. Seems like it should have been. Some kind of melted cheeses over elbow macaroni because Mom loved all kinds of casseroles. America cheese was the only kind in our fridge though. Served on Hillbilly Bread with butter or as a grilled cheese sandwich, just flipped the buttered side on the outside.
Dagwood Bumstead would have starved at our house. There were no messy, mayo, lettuce, mustard, pickles, ham, pastrami, provolone sandwiches served in our kitchen (or eaten over the sink). We really didn’t do sandwiches, maybe a BLT or Reuben occasionally. The Gerritson idea of a sandwich was an opened can of Red Sockeye salmon with all those nasty bones and slithery silver skin removed. On buttered bread and a nice leaf of iceberg lettuce. Ta-da! (First time I served it for supper as a newlywed, Hubs gaped at me like I had grown a third eye, and refused to eat it. What’s even worse, he eats the same exact salmon, plus the bones and slimy skin parts on soda crackers. Now really, who’s the freak here)?
The Gerritson refrigerator never held:
“my bologna has a first name, it’s Oscar,
my bologna has a second name, it’s Mayer.
Ohhhhhhhhhh, I love to eat it everyday,
if you ask me why I’ll say–
cause Oscar Mayer has a way with–B O L O G N A.”
(Sorry couldn’t help myself. Loved the commercial, the kid and song)
So I’m at a loss when once a week I see a picture of curled up fried bologna on Facebook with someone asking, who ate their bologna like this? Not this girl.
The Gerritson (or Van Berkum) cupboards have never held a can of Spam. I’ve never tasted it. Ditto for Campbell’s Tomato Soup. I did eat Campbell’s Vegetable Beef, Chicken Noodle and Bean with Bacon. And if Mom was making a casserole which called for a cream soup, 75% of the time she used Cream of Celery, the rest of the time Cream of Chicken. Never Cream of Mushroom, she said it was too strong. (I don’t have to tell you I lean the same way as Mom, right? On occasion when I use Cream of Mushroom, stroganoff comes to mind. But when I make stroganoff for Hubs I rarely eat it. I’ve managed 68 years without consuming Brussel sprouts, zucchini, squash, egg plant or the one I get razzed about most often, biscuits and gravy, none of which hold any appeal.
I was at least 30 before I tried Chinese food. It was offered on vacation once when I was a kid, as was Mom, but since she turned her nose up and would only drink the tea, well there you have my initial reaction. I was older than 30 before I ever tried broccoli, cauliflower or get this-SHRIMP. No, I’m not kidding. Pretty much, the only sea food we ate came from cans, Starkist Tuna (Sorry Charlie) and Deming’s Red Sockeye Salmon.
We never had Kool-aid or Tang in the house when I was a kid, although I was always allowed to have pop with my lunch everyday (RC Cola, 7-Up or Pepsi). I didn’t realize how fond of broccoli, or cauliflower I was until I’d been married for years. (My kids however grew up on Kool-aid and Kraft Macaroni & cheese, not as a meal but an after school snack).
So what did we consume at the Gerritson abode? Tuna salad, fresh tomatoes on bread topped with sugar all summer long. Any leftovers from supper the night before. I’d warm up a dish of casserole in the oven. And soups. Soups (always homemade) were a mainstay at our house. Chicken and rice, Navy Bean and Ham, whole Pea with pork hocks or ham, Chile and Vegetable beef.
If I was craving something sweet and Mom had not baked anything lately, a slice of buttered Hillbilly bread covered with a half inch of light brown sugar did the trick. I still eat one every once in a while. My kids grew up eating them as a treat. I know when I actually write it, I find it kinda weird too. Excuse me while I run to the kitchen for a minute. Sorry ’bout the drool…