Monday, August 30, 2010

Recipes before you were born feed you still

Remember the days when you had to shred your own cheese? Really good cooks, like my DIL, still do. I will on occasion; mostly I just try to buy fresh the day before. And in this big, wide metroplex I live in, I can think of only one grocery within 15 miles that has the beautiful, round orbs of quality mozzarella for sale. In fact, down here in the Texas land of cheddar and Monterrey jack cheeses, it wasn't so long ago I quit using ground parmesan in the can--and I have friends that still do.

Today is my oldest granddaughter's birthday, and yesterday was mine. Her mother was out of town till late, so tonight I'm fixing a family meal for the five of us. I have to gear up for that: cooking for my three friends for Yahzee made all of us laugh when we took recipes for four and inevitably had at least two helpings left. But this is Matt G.'s family, with his very active, rapidly growing daughters and busy wife, and I'm hoping my one 9X13-inch pan with bread, salad, ice cream and cake will be enough. I do know this: there will be no leftovers.

I pulled out a 70s pasta recipe I really like because it can be made ahead, even frozen. It's even better if made ahead. Even in the 70s, we were using prepared sauces. Shell macaroni is called for. Although I halved the recipe. I made adjustments for current eating habits. I tripled the pasta. The ground beef, of course, is 93/7, meaning 7% fat, then simmered with mushrooms, onion, a jar of sauce and a one-pound can of tomatoes--which now has been downsized to 14.7 oz. Half the meat mixture layered over the pasta, dabbed with about 1/3 cup sour cream, topped with cheese...and that was the other really big adaption. We are used to much more cheese in the dish than in the 70s. (Then we used plain hamburger, so the fat probably came out about the same.) A second layer of each, topped with the rest of the cheese and leaves from a stem of my fresh basil bush.

I thought about changes in popular foods, snacks, flavors from generation to generation. It's sort of a hobby. I love to get really old church cookbooks and see what they have. I was delighted last spring when a friend had a Maine cookbook with a recipe that came from the back of a can of Carnation evaporated milk in the
50s. It is a really easy chocolate sauce that was yummy on ice cream. I don't know if even Carnation has the recipe now, because it certainly is not on their web site.

When I was a kid, one of the few patent medicines for a cough was Smith Bros. Cough Drops. They came in licorice and cherry. My father loved the licorice and couldn't understand why I made a face. I did like the cherry. My dad also loved horehound, a root beer flavor of candy popular in the early 1900s. Mom was with me--Mars bars and 3 Musketeers all the way.

A major dish in the 1930s was tomato aspic. Punches usually had a tea base with added fruits and juices. During rationing during World War II, an older woman told me how she was able to buy one can of tuna on the black market and made a salad for herself and three friends which they relished. The tuna, you see, was mostly sent overseas to the troops. And Spam was born.

My parents also loved picallili and chow-chow, and a lot of people still do, but at least here in Texas, not a majority. Mostly older people eat it, but overall, probably just as many of us eat pickled okra--and that I like well. Does anyone under 70 drink buttermilk by choice? (I seem to remember a Weight Watcher recipe for buttermilk, fresh fruit and artificial sweetener that was pretty good in diet times.)
Whatever happened to Polski Wyrobi dill pickles?

In the 60s and 70s, cubed bologna and cheddar was sometimes served in bars with a beer. Summer sausage was always there in the summers--I used to make big chef salads with vine-ripened tomatoes, onions, lettuce, pepperoncini peppers, summer sausage and cheddar with oil and vinegar dressing.

For some reason, the main time I see summer sausage now is around Christmas. It's all beef, but I've found a meat plant that packages venison for hunters and makes their own sausages from the trimmings. Venison summer sausage makes beef sort of pale into the far distance. Last winter, I gave packages of the sausage, rat cheese and high quality crackers to several men I care and some friends.

I had never eaten a casserole as a child, though I had eaten many a pan of enchiladas and bowls of pinto beans. Campbell triumphed when they marketed their soups as thickeners for nutritious, easy, cheap family meals, beginning with the news-awarding green bean casserole.

There was a cookie--a scalloped edged shortbread round cookie, with orange icing drizzled with chocolate stripes. They just disappeared one year. Then there was the wave of lemon desserts. Green apple candies. This summer, almost every recipe I've seen from salads--especially spinach--to deserts, to sauces for chicken, includes strawberries.

A cross-generational conversation got me started. My youngest granddaughter asked me, "Gramma, do you like gummi bears?" I admitted I didn't because I didn't like the texture. She asked me, "What were the things you used to eat that we don't have any more?"

And this blog is the partial result of that.

I know how much I enjoyed the conversations with my grandparents, and their part of my rearing. They connected me to history through their own lives. I think ideally, three generations, at least, should rear the children. As I hear about more and more families like mine living next door, in the same homes, on the same propety with each other, I am aware that many Americans, from many, many cultures, do that.

My grandchildren keep me updated on the latest food fads in their generation. Sometimes, I feed them some of mine. We get to know each other better. And I believe fervently that eating together is an important part of family. Through food, there is communion. Add to the word and you get communication.

I'm all for that.


clairz said...

Charlotte, this was such an interesting and nostalgic post. I, too, love those old cookbooks, but they certainly reflect the changes in cooking styles. Bologna (always baloney in our family), Spam, summer sausage--all are so out of fashion now. We are eating more and more fresh fruits and vegetables at our house, what with medical conditions demanding low sodium, low cholesterol, low this and low that diets.

I was just thinking about how my husband and I once ate bacon and eggs for breakfast every day for almost a whole year, until all the fat and salt caught up with us. We would never consider doing the same thing now at our age--we are madly eating the good stuff with the hope that it will all balance out so we'll live forever!

Thank you for this great post. Happy cooking for and with your family.

Fay Akers said...

I still get those licorice cough drops. When I was a kid it would have been no way, but a few years ago I got really hooked on licorice candy. So when I got ill I saw those and ever since I love them.

Deb from WhatsInMyAttic said...

Great look back at "what I ate through the ages." LOL! Fun, interesting post, filled with so much truth. I grew up with a Southern mamma who baked biscuits three times a day and fried, fried, fried! I still love that food, but I only prepare it once or twice a year when my sisters and brothers are here for dinner. Fried okra, pinto beans, fried chicken, biscuits, corn bread...with a healthy portion of fat back or bacon in the beans or blackeyed peas! Once a year will do you in with all that grease, but we ate it often as children.

My daughter has been drinking buttermilk since she was six years old or so...if Granny liked it, DearDaughter liked it! My husband was horrified (he's from PA), when my sisters and I passed up cherry pie for our favorite dessert of leftover cornbread crumbled in a big glass of ice cold buttermilk!

Yesterday, though, while the others had cheesecake, I had a bowl of fresh strawberries! Oh well!

charlotte g said...

I will probably get back to this again and again. When I was six, a woman pediatrician (the idea impressed me very much) told my father to feed me brown bread, not white, only one starch per meal except on special occasions, and at least one green or yellow vegetable per meal. We ate eggs no more than once or twice a week-a special treat was softboiled on Sunday mornings-even though we raised chickens. We ate fried chicken when the fryers were the right size. Everything else was boiled, baked or roasted. Cake or pie on Sunday--Mama taught during the week. Lots of salads. No gravies. And this was in the 50s. Comfort food for most of us is childhood fare, if at all tasty--my DIL laughs when I put a meal together. She enjoys the salads, the broccoli, the brussel sprouts, even as she knows perfectly well beforehand I will be serving something like that. Well, or Mexican food. Dad DID believe chiles were a legitimate green vegetable. Amen to that.