Monday, January 12, 2009

Dignified or Countrified

I read a touching tribute the other day that mentioned as part of sweet memories the long-forgotten ritual of masticating spruce sap into gum. That, of course, swung me into big nostalgia about some of the things I ate as a child.

Things that I cupped in both hands and hid behind the teeter-totter at school to eat, because in my mind, it was shameful fare. And so then and there I solemnly promised myself, that I would never eat those shameful things when I grew up. But, now I find, in so many of them, unexpected delight.

Those things we ate in hard times, I still hesitate to tell you. Something in our society makes shame of the fact that although we live in modern comfort at the moment, that the ‘tar-paper shack’ we originally lived in…well, you know…better not to reveal that.

And likewise, equally shameful to reveal that I still indulge in those countrified foodstuffs I ate as a kid. After all, “normal” people (sophisticated, learned, successful, and cultured people) eat pepper steak, Parmesan pork, and honey-garlic chicken. Polished and successful people eat lobster and shrimp with exotic condiments made from pricey spices, cheeses, and herbs blended in one small container from the far reaches of the globe.

It is quite amazing to me. This perception we have that diet is directly linked to levels of social stratification (i.e. upper class, lower class, etc.) And so, because of that perception, successful and sophisticated individuals recognize how quickly they could topple from their peak if they were to reveal that they eat soda crackers dipped in molasses or potato chips dipped in ice cream. So to preserve social status, they become ‘closet-consumers’ with that part of their lives kept close to their breast.

But I intend to ignore all that in this wee Meme-Trivia combo. I am going to briefly list ignoble and uncultured repasts of my youth. Scored to these standards:

(Yuk) for dreadful, (Mmm) for undecided, and (Yum) for delightful. And if you want to play the game, or give feedback, there are two more categories for you: (???) which means ‘I’ve never eaten it!’ and (XXX) ‘I never intend to!’

So your feedback is invited. Have you eaten any of this stuff? How do you rate it? Or do you have confessions of your own about undignified things you ate as a child?
NOTE: Wax crayons or plant-dirt don’t count.

So now here’s my list:
1. bread and milk – broken-up bits of bread, dressed with brown sugar, and splashed with cream or rich milk. YUM (important – the bread must be homemade)
2. wheat gum - like spruce sap gum, this is wheat kernels picked in late fall from the fields and masticated into a smooth gum (YUM) (smooth and pleasantly mild)
3. Cornmeal porridge – cornmeal cooked as a thick mush, dredged with brown sugar and rich milk. Do not stir. (YUM) (In my books this beats by a mile the more popular savory cornmeal dish, that I think is of Polish, or Ukrainian descent, although I eat that too).
4. Buttermilk and Potatoes – This was my father’s favorite undignified treat. Young and hot boiled potatoes, slightly mashed. Pour on cold buttermilk, and liberally sprinkle with salt and pepper. (YUM, YUM) (This may sound disgusting to some but if you are okay with buttermilk or Ranch dressing, you might be pleasantly surprised.)
5. Rhubarb Biscuits – Regular biscuits with a bit of extra sugar and a cup or two of sliced rhubarb mixed in. (YUM) (Served hot, with butter, these capture an exotic balance of sweetness and tartness that is delightful).
6. Friday Hash – Every thing diced – leftover boiled potatoes, a bit of bologna or wieners, onions and celery. Mix together and season with salt, pepper, garlic, and a liberal amount of sage or poultry seasoning, and scramble-fry in butter and oil until golden and crispy. (YUM) (similar to Stuffing).
7. Instant Cinnamon Buns – a slice of homemade (again important) bread, well-buttered. Sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon, then into a hot oven or under the broiler. When bubbly and slightly browned, ready to eat. (YUM, YUM) (Do I need to say more?)

And here are a few undignified treats suggested by others, that I have tried:

1. Wheat porridge – Wheat kernels straight from the granary, salt, and boiling water left to cook and soften in a thermos overnight. Then dressed with sugar and milk in the morning. (YUK) (gawd-awful)
2. Cow Mushrooms (thus labeled because cows, not people, eat them). I always gritted my teeth with distaste when I spied these in the woods. Orange tops, speckled stems, usually so wormy and distasteful-looking. But when a neighbor showed me how to skillfully peal the mushrooms and in that way expose those which were corrupt and those which were pristine, and then cooked them up in fresh cream, onions, and dill. (YUM) (They were excellent).

So now, let’s have fun with this. Don’t be shy. Your social status is not at risk if you let me know what countrified things you eat. You are pretty much anonymous and so am I.

I hope so anyway, or tomorrow I’ll be toppled from middle-upper crust to bottom-of-the-barrel society.
Oh Dear, Oh Dear!


Julie Oakley said...

Bread and dripping with a sprinkle of salt. Yum
In the last recession swede (I think you call it rutabaga) was the cheapest vegetable so lots of different recipes using it - I really can't abide it now as I overdid it.

Roberta S said...

Hi julie. I swore when I was a kid I'd never eat rutabaga's/turnips again. But now, how things have changed. Thanksgiving ain't Thanksgiving without buttery garden turnips.
But if they come from the store -- forget it. They taste like they were preserved in pine sap. In fact they taste even worse then when I was a kid (which seems impossible!).

As for salt on bread, sounds like it would work for me.

Pauline said...

From my own childhood - mayonaise and mustard sandwiches (for those days when there was no meat left), headcheese (of my family I am the only one who would NOT eat the stuff), homemade fish hash on Saturdays made with Friday's leftover fish chopped with onions, a few potatoes, and fried in butter, and beanwiches, a combination of homemade baked beans and leftover crumbled hamburger spread on a toasted English muffin. We chewed beeswax as a gum substitute and also wintergreen berries we picked in the woods. One treat - unhealthy I'm sure for a variety of reasons, but we were farm kids - was a handful of molasses-covered grain from the bin in the barn.

I LOVE cornmeal mush drenched in maple syrup :)

Anonymous said...

I remember being served cornmeal mush drenched in maple syrup, too!

I still enjoy buttery toast with cinnamon sugar now and then. It never occured to me to broil it, but I bet that's fabulous!

Mother used to put salty popcorn into milk, and she liked "milk toast" when she was feeling poorly: white bread toasted, buttered and then moistened with scalded whole milk, with salt and pepper liberally applied.

We have one family specialty that sounds odd, but is heavenly. We would make a peanut butter sandwich and add sweet relish to it, and then grill it in butter. We called it "peanut butter and picalilli." My mouth is melting at the thought, and I may do it for lunch today! lol

And fried bread dough.....heavy enough to sink you, so don't go swimming after you've had it.

And, Dad would make these horribly greasy bacon and egg sandwiches on Saturday nights. He used the fat from the bacon to cook onions and then added scrambled eggs to the onion and fat. Now, that's one meal I don't miss! *G*

Thanks for leading me on a trip down memory lane.


Roberta S said...

hi Pauline. What an interesting list of treats. The home-baked beans, buns, and hamburg sound pretty darn good. Mayo & mustard - can't say I ever tried it in a sandwich.

Yes, we had bees so we chewed beeswax as well and paraffin wax when Mom was canning jellies.

The grain from the bin might not have been so unhealthy then, but it would be bad business now with all the herbicides, and insecticides, and god knows what else.

Thanks for commenting. I find these kinds of reflections as interesting as more important things.

Roberta S said...

hi Buffy. First, a quick word of warning - don't broil that cinnamon bread too long or it will clum to your teeth like overcooked taffy.
I used to eat popcorn with milk as well when there was no dry cereal in the cupboard. The peanut and picallili, I've never eaten but it sounds interesting.

I still do fried bread dough - but only after the bread has risen, then I shape into long flattened scones (gently so as to not destroy its lightness) and fry in a bit of oil and butter on medium-hot so that they will not be doughy in the middle. Then we sprinkle them with icing sugar and man are they good.

As for that final treat, as much as I like fatty foodstuffs, that 'fix' of onion, egg and bacon sounds like too much. Thanks for commenting. I enjoyed reading your feedback.

Eleanor said...

Sorry it took me a while to acknowledge this post and your kindly linking to my post, Roberta. This birthday proved to be rather hazardous to my health, in a manner of speaking. But I still say that I like birthdays and refuse to acknowledge that I'm not a kid anymore. :D

I get that your post is meant to be tongue in cheek for the most part, but it always bothers me a bit when your insecurities come out, even in a humourous way. I'm the last person to do any lecturing about insecurities, but I do wish that you'd not think so much about how you're perceived by others. You're not nearly as "weird" as you seem to think you are, and I'm sure that more than your many friends in Blogland love you for all of the qualities that make you uniquely you. Nothing that you've ever discussed on your blog, from bygone days or the present, is anything that you should be ashamed of. Material wealth and where we live have absolutely nothing to do with our worth as human beings. Nor does what we eat, either in childhood or adulthood!!

I honestly can't think of anything eaten in childhood that I was ever ashamed to have others know about, then or now. My peers and I all had weird things in our lunch boxes at school from time to time, and we all ate mostly frugal meals at home, regardless of the income levels of our parents. The same applies to all of the city-raised people with whom I've interacted over the years. I've never been part of a really wealthy circle, but I'll bet that even they had/have "plain fare" at least some of the time. You must just live in a particularly snobbish part of the country! :D

Roberta S said...

hi Eleanor, you make me laugh, you make me guilty, you make me think. Really, it's just who I am/became, this person that worries about how I am perceived. I'd like to have control over it, but I don't. It's in my DNA.

Still, very pleased I am that you took the time to stop in and the time to comment.