Ghosts of Food Past

When I read the first paragraph of another blog, I was inspired to write one that is less about cooking and more about food when I was growing up.

http://wp.me/p2djtc-il

This mentioned a number of family favorites and brings back memories for me.

Spaghetti.

My mom’s recipe isn’t fancy.  It’s pretty straight forward really.  Which is why it was the first meal I ever learned to cook.  Jar sauce was not used in our house.  Stewed tomatoes were cheaper and the seasonings were standard spice cabinet items.  Why spend more on jar sauce that wasn’t as good.  I was the finicky one and wouldn’t eat pieces of tomatoes.  So into the bender they went.  Hamburger was browned, liquified stewed tomatoes were poured in, basil, oregano, onion salt, garlic salt, and black pepper were added.  Simmer an hour, or two, or whatever.  Cook noodles and chop lettuse while garlic bread was baking in the oven.  And dinner was served.

I learned to cook this before I could reach the stove.  I needed to for my cooking badge in Girl Scouts.  I stood on a chair to cook.  My sister and I stood on chairs to wash the dishes.  I was still standing on a chair when my sister, 3 years younger than me, could finally reach the sink without the chair.  Sometimes I helped my mom cook while sitting on the counter.

Sometime around late Jr. High or so, I learned to make fried chicken. I had to be able to comfortably work at the cutting board while standing on the floor since this required the use of sharp knives.  You see, buying chicken parts was not yet an option. You had to start with a whole chicken.  I learned how to skin it.  It was weird for me to eat chicken at other people’s homes.  It had skin on it.  My mom was removing the skin before cooking long before it became the popular thing to do.  We skinned it before cutting it.  I don’t know if this was strange or not.  Cutting through the joints required some effort and did cutting the breasts apart.

She mixed her own seasoning with the flour for coating it.  Probably nothing too fancy, but compared to what I’ve discovered in the Midwest, she probably had a more flaverful chicken crust.   This is the blandest place I’ve ever lived.  People don’t know what they are missing.  There are more restaurants per capita than any other city in the U.S.  At least they do up a good steak here. (at most places).

Anyway, my favorites were always the wings.  Not sure why.  Most annoying piece to eat with the least meat.  But I like them best.  I remember getting excited when places started serving the buffalo wings.  And then got a horrible shock.  They had this smushy, undercooked, squishy stuff on it.  Skin.  Skin that wasn’t crispy and crunchy.  I don’t order buffalo wings of any flavor anymore.  They can’t make them crispy and saucy.  My dad always could.  Of course, he didn’t have the gross skin on them to work with.

As I said, I only did fried chicken once.  It was within the month when the stores started selling parts.  My mom only bought chicken breasts after that.  She was even happier the day they started selling them boneless and skinless.  The coating also went by the wayside and chicken was cooked in the pan with seasonings instead of breading.

We only occasionally got KFC, as they now call it.  One day, everything is going to be an acronym and future archeologists will have no idea what anything means.  I already don’t understand my niece’s Facebook posts.  KFC wasn’t really that exciting.  Although we liked the extra crispy.  My dad would just as soon grill outside than get KFC.

More often, fast food was McDonald’s or Burger King.  Or Taco Time.  That was my favorite.  McDonald’s and Burger King both meant a small selection of hamburgers or a fishwich.  There used to be a two person clapping song for McDonalds.  If anyone remembers it, this was the entire McDonald’s menu back in the day.

Pizza was a so-so change of pace.  I hated my mom’s homemade pizza.  I didn’t like the homemade crust or the homemade pizza sauce.  So I was happy to get the store-bought ones.  The only pizza place in town was attached to the bowling alley.  Man did they make good pizza.  That was the best part of the time when my parents were in a bowling league.  Pizza for dinner.  The other side of the bowling ally had a bar.  Yep, my sister and I were those kids in the bar in our footy pj’s.

Somewhere around 6th grade, the ‘Take N Bake’ became the big thing in Pizza.  Small shops opened up where you could get restaurant style pizza all made up for you and then you could take it home and cook when you wanted it.  Mom stopped making homemade pizza after that.

Other family favorites were Swiss steak, Mom’s meatloaf, Dad’s casserole (because it was his favorite and not because he made it, Mom did) and scalloped potatoes with ham.

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