As the cooking season is here and my adventures in the kitchen continue, I looked back on what kind of food was prepared for me growing up. As a 50’s family the kitchen was my mother’s domain even though she didn’t like it. It was the role of a housekeeper and stay-at-home mom to clean, take care of the kids and cook.
Always wearing an apron with pockets full of tissues and cigarettes, my mom would sit in the kitchen and fix three meals a day for family. The radio was always on until she got a little television to keep her entertained while baking coffee and trying to vary out dietary requirements.
None of the meals were memorable, but we all sat down to the dining table day after day with our mannered etiquette consuming whatever came out of the kitchen. Some meals were simple while others required frequent trips back and forth for extra helpings until out came the pots and pans.
My mother left home when she was young and maybe didn’t get the homemade recipes from her mother. She came from a big family and I don’t know how they fed all, but my grandmother always seemed to be comfortable in the kitchen. No matter how many people were around for meals, my grandmother always had another helping for us. The kitchen was the most popular room at her house and she reveled in the task, but that was my grandmother.
My mother was not so much. She knew it was her responsibility but never had the interest or desire to cook. She had gone from small town family living to the high life of living in hotels and being served in restaurants and clubs. When she had to settle into motherhood requirements, she might have been disappointed.
So here I am reflecting on the meals I grew up with. There was no measure of food groups or healthy balance to our menu. It was the 50’s with meat and potato being the main course. Vegetables came out of cans and were over cooked. Chicken was fried. Eggs were scrambled and dry. Bacon was greasy from the iron skillet. Meatloaf was a dry and about as appealing as fruitcake. Fish sticks had to be soaked in Worcestershire sauce. There were grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. There was chicken noodle soup when you got sick. There was Ginger ale and crackers when you were sick. Pancakes and French toast could be tolerated with lots of butter and syrup. We had milk delivered but our real daily product was butter. Butter made everything taste better.
Special holidays meant special meals. Cooking became entertaining and the silver came out to impress.
Now I will add this point. My dad was the manager of a club and had access to large professional kitchens, chefs and abundance of food. I never asked if he paid for it or it was just a perk of the job, but every holiday meal was brought home on stainless steel platters wrapped in tinfoil. Fully cooked turkeys with all the fixings, veggie platters, loads of bread, and platters of deserts were arranged in the kitchen and placed on fine china by my mother who was constantly talking between puffs on a cigarette. Even with only being required to heat up the prepared feast, she still walked around carrying her coffee cup and wearing an apron.
The kitchen had all the latest appliances and shelves of pots and pans, but I didn’t have any interest in cooking for myself. In college I worked for a vending machine company so I had all the sandwiches wrapped in plastic and canned soups I could eat. Junk food was becoming popular, but I never had enough money to eat out. Instead I would reach in my mom’s refrigerator, pull out a rib-eye steak, drop it in a skillet (with butter), and slap it on a piece of bread for a sandwich. I thought everyone ate that way.
My first wife, as I recall, wasn’t much of a cook either. She did bake me a tuna casserole that blew my mind. I had never eaten tuna fish or a casserole. Other than that I remember we went through a fondue period because it was the early seventies and that was what was popular. Quickly found out how long it takes to heat up a little piece of stuff on a sticker and you could starve waiting for it to cook. Bought a hibachi and burned some burgers on a cramped porch, but for the most part I remember we ate soups and sandwiches. We did go through a wine period where we invited our friends over to taste a selection of sample bottles then we realized everyone just wanted to get drunk.
My second wife was a bit more intense. She explored every aspect of life with fervor most cannot imagine. She explored oriental cuisine, down home southern cooking, vegetarian and everything in between. The shelves were full of cookbooks, appliances, utensils, plates, bowls, spices, pots and pans. I was the willing guinea pig for her experiments and was always bewildered at the new taste she presented. This was not my mother’s cooking.
After tearing out the kitchen, we went through a period of delivery. Cooking became too difficult so cardboard boxes holding food prepared by others was our regular nightly meal. Then she built a workspace for culinary experimentation and we were off again increasing our palate. Every unique devise that did some special technique was purchased. Like an artist experimenting with different paints of watercolors or oils, she tested the skills of baking, broiling, steaming, frying, and every other method to prepare a meal. She examined all the ingredients making notes and menus to taste. This was not my mother’s kitchen.
Today I cook for one. I have given away so many of the appliances and spices and cookbooks for I know I will not go there. I have all the cookware and knowledge, but little interest to prepare food to feed myself.
Mom never taught me any cooking skills, but she did teach me one thing about the kitchen. ALWAYS have sharp knives.