Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thanksgiving and the rise and fall of home cooking

My childhood memories of thanksgiving were always about the turkey that my mother would smother in butter and roast slowly in the oven. It was always glorious and served with mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. We even had cranberries. I never liked cranberries but I knew it was part of the dinner. In those days, sweet potatoes were only available around Thanksgiving. I looked forward to our Thanksgiving dinners and remember being driven almost mad by the tantalizing smell of the roasting bird when I lived at home.

In fact as a child, our food menu did not have the choice we have now. I can stroll into my supermarket and choose over 100 kinds of mustards. As a child there was French's mustard. I can have suishi, mexican, thai. When I was a child, tacos were considered a very exotic treat and not always available. In fact my culinary experiences were very limited!

It started with breakfast,for years I was served creme of wheat. It was white and there were invariably large chewy lumps on my plate. It was lukewarm and pretty horrible. I preferred red river cereal. The choices were creme of wheat, and red river cereal. Today, there are entire sections of our supermarket devoted to this genre of hot cereal. There are dozens of choices!

Eventually my father decided that cold cereal was easier and we had puffed wheat. If there was ever a boring cereal it was puffed wheat. A bag that was 3 feet long weighed a few ounces. It looked like pussy willows dumped in honey. It immediately turned to mush when you poured milk on it.

My mother always packed my lunch for school. I had deviled eggs everyday and it took me years to learn that deviled eggs are an appetizer and not a staple. My soup was invariably Campbell's creme of mushroom and I was convinced that mushrooms were tiny square little brown sponges. The little sponges would float in a sea of salty grey gelatinous material that formed the bulk of this soup. My lunch would be topped off with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The jam or jelly would always run over the sides and my sandwich would be a soggy mess.

For years my mother cooked dinners with various degrees of protest. Dinners were usually beef or steak of some kind, with the occasional pork chop. I don't recall eating fish. My father was always keen on innovation and gadgets and was the first to introduce us to Swanson's TV dinners. These marvels, came on a sheet of tinfoil with little sections for each food. The salisbury steak had its own section and the dry, tasteless selection was smothered in dark brown gravy. Next to it, was a section called mashed potatoes. The potatoes were smooth and covered with a stiff yellow oily film, presumably to mimic butter. There were a few peas and carrots and a desert of some sort, smothered in a jam like sauce. My father thought they were wonderful, they were fast and they were balanced they had desert. Gradually we saw less of his corned beef hash and our freezer filled with these processed horrors.

As I matured and left home, I came to realize that cooking on my own from 'scratch' gives much better and healthier results and my husband is also of that opinion. We never have puffed wheat, we have never had a TV dinner and certainly no can of Campbell's soup has ever darkened the walls of our pantry!

I have experimented with being a vegetarian and for the past few years eat locally and as much as possible organically. I try not to eat processed food of any sort. I buy Thai food and the occassional suishi dish. I make my own soups and my mushroom soup has large chunks of actual mushroom that swim in the savory broth that I prepare for my soups. I don't eat creme of wheat...ever, and my oatmeal is not chunky.

And yet, as we approach Thanksgiving, I find myself looking forward to a roasted turkey with sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes. My culinary experiences have come full circle!

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