Saturday, March 30, 2013

Food History

I want to give you a little bit of my intergenerational food history, if you will. My dad grew up with chickens pecking around his (itty-bitty,dirt) backyard, and my mom’s family had an enterprising set of parents who dealt with tight money in some unusual ways, including getting a whole bunch of chicken hearts on the cheap from a local farmer. She remembers them frying in the pan for dinner, and that the taste was fine but they were tough. 

She also once told me that when my parents were first married and they really had next to nothing, her parents gave her a gift of some old, tough mutton they had gotten under similar circumstances to the chicken hearts. Decades later she still recalled that freezer full of mutton that they had to work through, and how dearly she wished they could eat something else; but since that was what they had, that was what she cooked every week for about a year. I don't think aged mutton is gourmet food by anyone's definition, and it left a lasting impression on her. My mom was always adventurous in what she cooked us, but I never once tasted lamb that I recall until I bought it a few years ago for the first time. My guess is she never wanted to taste sheep again in her life!

I remember that she tried cooking us liver a few times, bless her heart; but it was the one of the rare foods I hated with all my little heart. It’s a shame, really, apparently liver is a true superfood. But she also bought beef tongue and sent us sandwiches of it to school, and I remember trying battered-and-fried frog legs once. I’m pretty sure she bought them at the store, though they must have been a rarity.

Clearly, times have changed. No one I know has ever purchased and prepared frog legs, and if you were getting chicken hearts or mutton from a guy down the street on any kind of regular basis you’d be in pretty big trouble with the law. (Have any of you seen Farmageddon? Worth watching. Intense.) Not to mention the teasing for your tongue sandwich at the lunch table, especially if it was like the one I got which had a tiny square of skin that got missed by my mom, with all its papillae and hair...I did try a few bites off the other end, but it was sort of ruined for me by that hairy patch.

On the other hand, despite the relatively quick downhill slide our nation’s health is taking, we’re still (just) within living memory of another way of eating. I want to hear more stories about what our own parents ate before TV dinners caught on. Let’s not waste that, is my feeling. I hope it’s not too late to start putting things on our tables that don’t have to be analyzed, justified, or feared. Can we get away from the distinction between “health food” and other food, and just nourish ourselves with real food? 

I'm pretty sure that most of my scant readership has been lucky enough to have mothers who clung more tenaciously to traditional cooking when they were young, and I'd be curious to know how that has affected you. I'm especially curious to know how many hear about organ meats in their parents' or grandparents' diets; it's something that viscerally grosses me out, but I've started to hear more about the benefits of including them. Shoot me a comment if you have any relevant family food history...thanks!

1 comment:

  1. You never cease to amaze and cause me to wish I could do a fraction of what you do with your kitchen! My mother worked full time as the director of a childcare center and also taught preschool and kindergarten, yet she still managed to whip up amazing meals and taught us to value fruits, veggies and whole foods. We never ate organs, and I admit a bit sheepishly that as my parents were both children of depression-era parents, they instead never allowed us to go without in the food department. They preferred to go in debt for what they needed rather than scrape things together, and it has worked out for them, although I take a different approach in my home. We had a lot of Hostess and sugar cereals available, but were also taught strong values in healthy eating. As we grew we had a lot more of the "convenience" foods from Costco such as pre-made stuffed manicotti and such because they were simple and quick for a busy tired mother--- Dad never fixed anything but cold cereal with milk. She on the other hand managed to pull recipes from magazines and organize meals in such a way that we never felt lacking in structure or variety. Her gifts with efficiency and high energy enabled her to produce a lot of beautiful spreads in spite of her being so busy! My own skills are dismal in comparison, but I still try to keep us in healthful foods and thankfully my husband is a great cook and we work together to keep the five children fed and happy!